Film Notes

 

Film Notes

Go behind-the-scenes to learn more about your favorite films!

 

Jump to a specific film:

2001: A Space Odyssey | 25th Hour | A Face in the Crowd | A Fish Called Wanda | An Affair to Remember | Annie | The Big Lebowski | The Big Sleep | Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure | Blade Runner | Bonnie and Clyde | Bottle Rocket | Bram Stoker’s Dracula | Casablanca | Cleo from 5 to 7 | Clueless | Coal Miner’s Daughter | The Conversation | Dirty Dancing | Double Indemnity | Dr. No | Friday | Funny Girl | Giant | The Godfather | The Godfather: Part II | Goodfellas | The Good, the Bad and the Ugly | The Goonies | Grease | Groundhog Day | High Noon | His Girl Friday | Holy Motors | How to Steal a Million | In the Heat of the Night | The Italian Job | It Happened One Night | Jules and Jim | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Maltese Falcon | Lawrence of Arabia | The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance | Mississippi Masala | My Cousin Vinny | My Man Godfrey | Nightmare Alley | North by Northwest | Once Upon a Time in Hollywood | Paper Moon | The Philadelphia Story | Pillow Talk | Plan 9 from Outer Space | The Princess Bride | Raiders of the Lost Ark | Raising Arizona | Rear Window | Reservoir Dogs | Rififi | The Rocky Horror Picture Show | Selena | Shadow of a Doubt | Singin’ in the Rain | Sleepless in Seattle | The Sound of Music | The Spy Who Loved Me | Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan | The Sting | Strangers on a Train | Tampopo | They Live | The Thin Man | To Kill a Mockingbird | Tokyo Story | Vertigo | What Ever Happened to Baby Jane | Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown | Working Girl

Listed alphabetically by film title.



 

2001: A Space Odyssey

1968

160 min
Color

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
Editor: Ray Lovejoy
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack, Douglas Rain

When asked what he hoped to achieve with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, director Stanley Kubrick simply said, “I want to make a good science fiction film.” Not only did he overachieve on that goal, he also made a film so singular and timeless that it’s almost unfair to compare it to any science fiction film before or since. Kubrick set out to do nothing less than tell the story of the past, present, and future evolution of humankind, and you can’t say he hasn’t succeeded.

The film is based on author Arthur C. Clarke’s 1950 short story “The Sentinel.” Kubrick reached out to Clarke about any possible interest in adapting the story for the screen, and they would ultimately spend four years working together to turn this short story into a cinematic reflection of our history and a visionary estimation of our future.

This process first involved Clarke writing an actual novel of the story, which he then presented to Kubrick as a gift one Christmas. From there, the two began work on turning the novel into a screenplay. The level of detail in the film was present from the very beginning, as Kubrick and Clarke were advised on future design and technology possibilities by companies like Whirlpool, RCA, GE, IBM, Pan Am, and NASA. What did those companies get in return for their advice? Just keep an eye out for all the product placements in the film; even Howard Johnson’s gets in on the fun.

Once production finally began on the film, Kubrick assembled an expert crew to handle everything from visual effects to makeup. Legendary effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull and his talented team played a significant role in creating an authentic experience for 2001. They devised ideas ranging from simple solutions, like attaching a pen to a sheet of plexi-glass to give it the appearance of floating in an anti-gravity room, to elaborately designed cinematic inventions, like new cameras and new methods of exposing film.

Not to be lost among all the technological talk is the note-perfect performance from Keir Dullea, who basically carries the audience through the film and allows us to participate in his experiences. Kubrick once said that he wanted people to “experience” 2001, rather than “watch it,” and Dullea’s subtle work is a critical part of achieving that goal. A flashy movie star may have given audiences reason to approach the film as a typical sci-fi action adventure movie, but Dullea’s quiet, reflective everyman allows us to “experience” the movie at the reflective pace that Kubrick wanted.

Of course, one of the more memorable elements of the film is Dullea’s computerized foil, the HAL 9000 artificial intelligence. Voiced by Douglas Rain in a tone that is somehow both banal and menacing, HAL 9000 not only provides Dullea’s character with some much needed company but also provides the film with a potent reminder of just how skilled Kubrick was at creating tension and suspense. A feature-length reminder would come 12 years later with Kubrick’s remarkable adaptation of Stephen King’s THE SHINING.

By panning the vibrant and exciting BONNIE AND CLYDE a year earlier, many film critics had already begun showing signs of falling out of touch with the newer generation of filmmakers and filmgoers, and their evaluations of 2001 were no different. Several prominent critics believed the film to be slow and confusing, but their opinions proved no match for the enthusiasm of the young audiences who came out to see the film in droves. Remarkably enough for an admittedly non-traditional film, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY became the second highest grossing movie of 1968. Can you imagine that happening today?

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 


25th Hour

2002

135 min
Color

Director: Spike Lee
Screenplay: David Benioff
Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto
Editor: Barry Alexander Brown
Music: Terence Blanchard
Cast: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox

The following is excerpted from “The Ruins and Reckoning of 25th Hour,” an article written for The Dissolve by Scott Tobias.

It’s a fitting irony that two works of art strongly associated with September 11, 2001—Bruce Springsteen’s “My City Of Ruins” and Spike Lee’s 25th Hour—were conceived in 2000, then woven into the aftermath. Springsteen altered the lyrics to his song—which had originally referred to Asbury Park, New Jersey—but modified the phrasing for a performance at the America: A Tribute To Heroes benefit, where the lyrics “Rise up! Rise up!” turned into a clarion call; the track was later included on Springsteen’s 2002 album The Rising, which took 9/11 as its theme.

Lee was in preproduction on 25th Hour, his devastating adaptation of David Benioff’s book, when 9/11 happened, and as one of the great New York filmmakers, he followed his instinct to include the disaster in a film that didn’t seem like it would accommodate it easily. Adding that particular spice to the dish threatened to overwhelm the film’s intimate tale of sin and regret, which largely stays within the narrow parameters of a convicted drug dealer’s last night of freedom.

But “My City Of Ruins” would be just as good a title for Lee’s movie: No one’s story exists outside the context of where they live, and to some degree, 25th Hour associates the wreckage of Ground Zero with the devastation its protagonist’s choices have wrought in his own life. A more radical reading of 25th Hour would hold 9/11 as another consequence of bad choices, but at a minimum, Lee is doing the work of the documentarian he’s always been. As with Paul Thomas Anderson and the San Fernando Valley, or Steven Spielberg and suburbia, there’s a history of New York built into Lee’s films, even if they aren’t explicitly about their locale. To ignore 9/11 so soon after it happened would be a dereliction of duty for Lee, because there’s no way to account for life in that city without it; the way it happens to dovetail so beautifully with Benioff’s story makes the film that much more evocative and powerful.

As it happens, 9/11 references take up a much smaller portion of 25th Hour than it might seem: The bulk of it is relegated to the mournful opening-credits sequence, which assembles different views of the “Tribute In Light” art installation, set to Terence Blanchard’s score, before pulling back to reveal the ghostly spotlights where the Twin Towers once stood. Later, there’s a shot of the “Wanted: Dead Or Alive” tabloid cover with Osama bin Laden scotch-taped to a broker’s door, and a scene where two old friends peer down at Ground Zero from a high-rise apartment and argue over conflicting news reports of polluted air.

Bin Laden and al-Qaeda are also folded into a bilious monologue that comprehensively disses every racial and class stereotype in the city—a callback to a famous montage in Lee’s Do The Right Thing. The aftermath of 9/11 is of fleeting, incidental concern to the day-in-the-life of 25th Hour, but the tenor of life has shifted unmistakably, which is true of New York and of the country. Even unseen, it’s a presence.

–Scott Tobias, The Dissolve
Click here to read the full article on The Dissolve.


A Face in the Crowd

1957

126 min
B&W

Director: Elia Kazan
Screenplay: Budd Schulberg
Cinematography: Gayne Rescher, Harry Stradling Jr.
Editor: Gene Milford
Music: Tom Glazer
Cast: Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, Walther Matthau, Lee Remick

When director Elia Kazan and writer Budd Schulberg combined forces for the first time in 1954, the resulting film was one of the best ever made, ON THE WATERFRONT. For their second project together, the duo decided to adapt Schulberg’s short story “Your Arkansas Traveler,” a fable about the growing power of the relatively new media format known as television.

Among their many similarities was a shared distrust of television and the people who might wield its power for selfish reasons and personal gain. As Kazan recalled, “the thing that drove us was our belief in the theme, our anticipation of the power TV would have in the political life of the nation. ‘Listen to what the candidate says,’ we urged, ‘don’t be taken in by his charm or his trust-inspiring personality.” Based on that sentiment alone, many would argue that A FACE IN THE CROWD gives NETWORK a run for its money as the most prescient film ever made.

Like any Kazan film, A FACE IN THE CROWD works because of its titanic performances. Having made his name as a successful theater director, Kazan knew how to coax the best work out of his actors onscreen. As the wily scoundrel Lonesome Rhodes, Andy Griffith creates such a horrifying portrayal of greed and bad intentions that you have to watch several seasons of “The Andy Griffith Show” before you can smile at him again.

Griffith proved to be the perfect choice to play a small-town jailbird whose particular brand of booze-soaked charm works perfectly on television and sends him straight to the top of the American power structure. Kazan says, “One of the points we wanted to make with the picture was the fantastic upward mobility in this country, the speed with which a man goes up and down. That we both knew well, because we’d both been up and down a few times. Our basic interest in this picture was Lonesome Rhodes as a legend. It was to make a legendary figure of him, and to warn the public: look out for television.”

When A FACE IN THE CROWD was first released, critics and audiences who were currently enamored with the new medium of television did not respond favorably. However, over the years, the film has been revisited as a remarkable warning of the dangers to come. Kazan later pointed out that the film “foretold Nixon.” Little did he know just how accurate his film would prove to be…

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


A Fish Called Wanda

1988

108 min
Color

Director: Charles Crichton
Screenplay: Charles Crichton, John Cleese
Cinematography: Alan Hume
Editor: John Jympson
Music: John Du Prez
Cast: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin

For many, A FISH CALLED WANDA’s British comedy credentials come from it co-starring two members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, John Cleese (who also co-wrote the film) and Michael Palin.

But classic film fans will also note the pedigree of director and co-writer Charles Crichton, who directed comedies like THE LAVENDER HILL MOD for the legendary Ealing Studios – which had been a formative inspiration for the Monty Python troupe. So WANDA represents more than two decades of British comedy royalty – and the result is one of the most beloved comedies ever made.

Despite his curmudgeonly representation, Cleese seemed to work quite well with Crichton, the two of them splitting duties between specifically directing the actors (Cleese) and taking responsibility for the overall production (Crichton). This proved to be a smart approach, as Crichton used his vast directorial experience to bring the film in under budget and ahead of schedule – both badges of honor for seasoned directors.

As a result, Crichton was nominated for an Oscar for directing, and the two of them shared a nomination for their screenplay, all of which speaks to how well-regarded this film was. It is an exceedingly rare thing for a comedy to receive so many of the top nominations.

Cleese was no slouch with his directorial contributions either. Kevin Kline – who steals virtually all of his scenes in an Oscar-winning supporting performance – once said that Cleese “hosted” the film, so calm and relaxed was the vibe that Cleese created for his fellow actors. And though he had plenty of experience in front of the camera, he still had a lot to learn from his co-lead Jamie Lee Curtis, remembering, “When we came to the more romantic scenes with Jamie, she said, ‘Don’t rehearse. Let’s just see what happens.’ I’d never done that. It’s scary if you’re addicted to rehearsing, as I am – like pushing a boat off from shore without any oars. Sometimes, between takes, Jamie would see me running lines in my head. She’d say ‘Don’t’ and wave a finger at me.”

Several studios passed on Cleese’s idea for the film before MGM/UA finally agreed to produce it, to great financial reward. WANDA went on to break several box office records, including being the most successful British comedy ever released in the U.S. at the time. More intriguingly, the film was released on July 15, 1988 but didn’t hit #1 on the box office charts until Sept. 16, still the longest it has ever taken a film to do so and a testament to its slow-burn, word-of-mouth success.

One piece of trivia for movie buffs: if Cleese’s character’s name Archie Leach sounds familiar, perhaps you recognize it as being short for Archibald Leach, the birth name of Cary Grant. In Cleese’s words, “It’s the nearest I will ever get to being Cary Grant.”

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


An Affair to Remember

1957

115 min
B&W

Director: Leo McCarey
Screenplay: Delmer Daves, Leo McCarey
Cinematography: Milton Krasner
Editor: James B. Clark
Music: Hugo Friedhofer
Cast: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning, Neva Patterson, Cathleen Nesbitt

After the Cary Grant-starring film THE AWFUL TRUTH proved to be a smash hit for director Leo McCarey, the filmmaker struggled to find a worthy follow-up project. His wife suggested they take a vacation to Europe, where McCarey could get away from Hollywood and relax into a new period of creativity. However, after three months abroad, McCarey had failed to come up with anything.

It was, ironically, on the voyage home that McCarey was suddenly struck with the idea for LOVE AFFAIR, the 1939 film that he would eventually remake as 1957’s AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER. McCarey recalls introducing the idea to his wife as the Statue of Liberty floated into view: “Suppose you and I were talking to each other when the boat sailed from England, and we got to know each other on the trip. We felt ourselves inseparable. By the time the trip was over, we were madly in love with each other, but by the time the boat docked we have found out that each is obligated to somebody else.”

The resulting film was frequently referred to as the “most romantic movie ever made” throughout the 1940s, so, when McCarey’s career hit a rough patch in the 1950s, he decided that the story was so nice, he should film it twice. The most significant obstacle? Convincing Grant to come out of semi-retirement and take the lead role. But he accepted the job, surprisingly so, considering the difficulties he and McCarey caused each other twenty years earlier on the set of THE AWFUL TRUTH.

Although McCarey initially considered Ingrid Bergman for the female lead opposite Grant (perhaps he was a NOTORIOUS fan like everyone else?), he ultimately looked to Deborah Kerr, whose performance in THE KING AND I McCarey had greatly admired. In fact, McCarey felt that Kerr had done such a great job of lip-synching over Marni Nixon’s singing voice in that film that he rewrote Kerr’s character in AFFAIR TO REMEMBER as a singer and hired Nixon to provide the vocals.

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER accomplished the very thing that McCarey had hoped it would, stealing the title of “most romantic movie ever made” from the earlier version. More recently, the American Film Institute declared it to be the fifth most romantic American film of all time, behind CASABLANCA, GONE WITH THE WIND, WEST SIDE STORY, and ROMAN HOLIDAY. Now that’s good company.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Annie

1982

127 min
Color

Director: John Huston
Screenplay: Carol Sobieski
Cinematography: Richard Moore
Editor: Michael A. Stevenson
Music: Charles Strouse
Cast: Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, Ann Reinking, Tim Curry, Geoffrey Holder

By 1982, it was safe to say that the movie musical had gone out of style. In earlier decades, there had seemed to be a grand new musical in movie theaters every month, between the Technicolor spectacles of the 50s (like SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and AN AMERICAN IN PARIS), the roadshow epics of the 60s (like THE SOUND OF MUSIC and WEST SIDE STORY), and the edgy gambles of the 70s (like CABARET and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW). But the 80s began with some rather uninspired entries in the genre, including FAME, XANADU, and a sad attempt to recapture the success of years past in GREASE 2, and it seemed that the movie musical was doomed to become a relic.

However, the musical art form still had some life on Broadway, despite the sleaziness and seediness pervading the streets of Times Square at the time. Inspired by the staggering success of ANNIE, which swept the Tony Awards and had everyone singing about “Tomorrow,” Columbia Pictures bought the rights and decided to spare no expense in bringing this musical spectacle to the screen. But then, in a decision that still inspires head scratching today, the studio hired John Huston, aging helmer of darker films like THE MALTESE FALCON, to direct this lighthearted musical romp. Say what?

Huston was handed one of the biggest budgets ($40 million) in Columbia Pictures history, adding considerable stress to the proceedings as everyone began to fret over recouping such a significant investment. (They ultimately didn’t). With so much money at stake, Huston knew that he wasn’t likely to have the creative control to which he was accustomed. Producer Ray Stark admitted as much, saying that Huston was brought on to add a few rough edges to the story. According to Stark, the picture would benefit from having its own Daddy Warbucks-esque curmudgeon behind the camera.

Ironically enough, when Jack Nicholson was unable to accept the role of Daddy Warbucks, his replacement Albert Finney modeled his portrayal on John Huston himself. If you’ve seen Huston’s performance in CHINATOWN, you’ll recognize more than a bit of that in Finney’s performance here. Minus the shameful criminal activity and horrific family issues, of course.

ANNIE was not exactly welcomed with open arms by critics at the time, and, though it managed to become the 10th highest grossing film of the year at $57 million, that number wasn’t enough to recoup the film’s ballooning production and marketing costs. But it has become a family favorite over the years, and a joyously unexpected entry in John Huston’s filmography.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Big Lebowski

1998

117 min
Color

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Screenplay: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Editors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Tricia Cooke
Music: Carter Burwell
Cast: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, John Turturro, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Ethan and Joel Coen can do it all. Writers, directors, producers, and editors, the two have worked together since making a splash with their audacious, neo-noir (and shot-in-Austin) debut, BLOOD SIMPLE (1984). But rather than becoming pigeonholed as genre/crime filmmakers, the brothers set off on their own career course, a journey that would produce one of the most unique bodies of work in the contemporary American cinema. Their unique, quirky, individual style, which often walks a fine line between comedy and tragedy, has served them well and will most likely continue to do so for many years to come.

The Coens followed up the success of BLOOD SIMPLE with RAISING ARIZONA (1987); BARTON FINK (1991); and FARGO (1996). Next up was THE BIG LEBOWSKI, an unconventional crime comedy that is the textbook definition of “cult film,” a status it acquired before the final release prints had even dried. Jeff Bridges stars as Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, an unemployed Los Angeles slacker and avid bowler, and the supporting cast of quirky characters includes Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sam Elliott.
Only the Coen brothers would have the audacity to mix a crime film, stoners, and the bowling sub-culture into a crazy, wild ride down the rabbit hole. Loosely based on the works of crime maestro Raymond Chandler, THE BIG LEBOWSKI moves episodically and deals with characters trying to unravel a mystery within a hopelessly complex plot that’s ultimately unimportant.

Like RAISING ARIZONA, THE BIG LEBOWSKI did not do well at the box office upon first release, receiving mixed reviews from critics. But like RAISING ARIZONA, the film found an audience on home video and quickly became a cult classic, with fans embracing the idiosyncratic characters, baroque dream sequences, unconventional dialogue, and eclectic soundtrack.

With a budget of $15 million, the Coens wrote parts specifically for John Goodman and Steve Buscemi, who had already been cast. In preparation for playing “The Dude”, Bridges met with Jeff Dowd, the real life “Dude”, who liked to drink White Russians and really was known as “The Dude.”

Bridges also drew on his own life in the ’60s and ’70s and went into his own closet with the film’s wardrobe person to pick out clothes he thought the Dude might wear. The film was shot in and around Los Angeles over a period of eleven weeks, and all of the bowling scenes were shot at the Hollywood Star Lanes.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI cemented the Coens’ reputation as masters of their own, bizarre subgenre of films. No one makes movies like them and no one does it better. The brothers have been nominated for many Oscars together plus one individual nomination each, winning Best Original Screenplay for FARGO and Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog


The Big Sleep

1946

114 min
B&W

Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman
Cinematography: Sid Hickox
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, Peggy Knudsen, Elisha Cook

In 1939, author Raymond Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep was published, marking the first appearance of his famous detective character Philip Marlowe. The book was a hit with readers everywhere, and Warner Bros. quickly snatched up the rights to make the story into a film. Humphrey Bogart’s iconic performance as the legendary detective popularized and immortalized the character, ensuring that Philip Marlowe would be revisited several times in the movies.

In the seven years between the publication of The Big Sleep and the release of the movie version in 1946, three other films had been made based on other Marlowe stories, each with a different actor playing the detective (George Sanders, Lloyd Nolan, and Dick Powell). Powell’s performance as Marlowe in MURDER, MY SWEET came closest to making a big splash, but, when Bogart got his turn, he truly knocked it out of the park.

One of the major reasons Warner Bros. wanted to cast Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP was to reunite him with his sensational leading lady from TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, Lauren Bacall. The pair had sparked an unforgettable chemistry in that earlier film, and audiences wanted more. When the studio asked Howard Hawks, director of TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, if he had any ideas, Hawks suggested Chandler’s novel, which reminded him of the film that had initially made Bogart a big star, THE MALTESE FALCON.

It was never going to be easy to get this story past the strict censors at the Production Code Administration. But Hawks and his writers were subtle and suggestive in handling all of the novel’s touchy topics in the film, and Hawks actually had the brilliant idea to just let some of the Production Code staffers write the ending themselves, guaranteeing that it would pass. As it turns out, he was so impressed with what they came up with that he hired them on as full-time writers!

After test screenings of the original cut of the film, Warner Bros. was alarmed to find that audiences were unhappy with how infrequently Bogart and Bacall shared the screen together. Rather than release the film in that disappointing form, Warner Bros. shelved the film for months. After Lauren Bacall’s next film, CONFIDENTIAL AGENT, had premiered to critical pans and audience disinterest, the studio realized they needed to act fast to get her popular momentum going back in the right direction. So Hawks and the cast got back together to shoot more scenes with Bogart and Bacall together. This proved to be the right decision, as this final cut, the one that we know and love today, was a major hit with audiences and critics alike.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

1989

90 min
Color

Director: Stephen Herek
Screenplay: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Cinematography: Tim Suhrstedt
Editor: Larry Bock, Patrick Rand
Music: David Newman
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin

When UCLA student Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon first met, they could not have known that their immediate friendship would eventually evolve into a successful writing partnership – or that that partnership would generate one of the most beloved Los Angeles duos in movie history: Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan.

As Solomon recalls, it was originally going to be a trio. “It was Chris who suggested we do a couple of guys who were studying history but knew nothing about history,” Solomon says. “Originally it was three guys: Bill, Ted and a character named Bob who has long since gone away. Chris and I loved playing the characters so much we went to a coffee shop later that night and continued goofing around doing them.”

As luck would have it, Chris Matheson’s father (maybe you already worked this out) was legendary science-fiction writer Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, The Last Man on Earth, The Incredible Shrinking Man, etc. etc. etc.), and he is the one who suggested that Bill and Ted could have their own movie. Perhaps it could even have a sci-fi angle…

Before they knew it, they had a fleshed out script about two LA teens who end up traveling through time to collect a series of historical figures for their history report. They called it…“Bill and Ted’s Time Van,” which would have to change when BACK TO THE FUTURE’s DeLorean stole all the thunder and necessitated a change of vehicle from van to phone booth. The script made the rounds in Hollywood, and everyone was in love with it. It wasn’t long before the writers and director Stephen Herek began casting the title characters.

For Alex Winter, who would eventually win the role of Bill, it was immediately clear in the audition that this was no ordinary teen comedy. “What struck me at the time was the language; it was very distinct for what was presented as a teen comedy,” Winter remembers. “It wasn’t like other teen comedies. If it wasn’t a John Hughes movie it was a knock-off John Hughes movie and the language was always the same: teens acting like 40 year olds in therapy. [Bill and Ted] were very childlike and spoke in this ornate way. That stood out. It was more fun.”

Keanu Reeves went through the same audition process, with Herek and the producers testing out many different pairings until they saw the spark they were looking for between Reeves and Winter. The two became fast friends on set – as Winter recalls, “We hit it off and had lots of similarities. We both showed up with motorcycle helmets, both played bass, both liked the same theatre, literature and cinema… We would’ve been friends whether we got the part or not.”

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Blade Runner

1982

117 min
Color

Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Hampton Fancher, David Webb Peoples
Cinematography: Jordan Cronenweth
Editors: Marsha Nakashima, Terry Rawlings
Music: Vangelis
Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah

Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER was released on the exact same day as John Carpenter’s THE THING. So, if you were a sci-fi-crazy moviegoer in 1982, you were in cinematic nirvana! However, it wouldn’t have been quite the same experience as the one you’re about to have, since the version you would have seen in 1982 differed greatly from the version we will watch today.

In its original theatrical release, BLADE RUNNER was significantly altered from the vision that Scott and star Harrison Ford had for the film. Whereas Scott and Ford had fought to make a subtle film that never talked down to its audience, producers and executives were convinced that their version was too complicated and difficult to follow.

The biggest change these neurotic financiers forced onto the film was a series of narrative voiceovers spoken by Ford that essentially held viewers’ hands through the film they were watching. The quality of those voiceovers was so bad that, for years, BLADE RUNNER fans were convinced that Ford performed them poorly on purpose in the hopes that they wouldn’t be used. But in 2002, Ford insisted, “I delivered it to the best of my ability, given that I had no input. I never thought they’d use it. But I didn’t try and sandbag it. It was simply bad narration.”

Thankfully, over the years, a number of different director’s cuts were released, bringing us closer and closer to Ridley Scott’s original vision until we finally arrived at the “Final Cut” you will see today.

Here, in all its glory, is the dark, mysterious, noir-esque sci-fi treasure that Scott always intended it to be. Gone are the voiceovers as well as the studio-enforced happy ending that had been tacked onto the theatrical release. This was always a gritty and hard-edged film tinged with despair, and now it has the ending it deserves.

What that ending means for the characters is anybody’s guess (even after the sequel BLADE RUNNER 2049, many questions remain), and that very open-endedness is what so often defines great art.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Bonnie and Clyde

1967

111 min
Color

Director: Arthur Penn
Screenplay: David Newman, Robert Benton
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Editor: Dede Allen
Music: Charles Strouse
Cast: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Gene Wilder

In the late 1960s, revolution was in the air. Everywhere you looked, something radical and groundbreaking was taking place. Protests against the war in Vietnam were reaching a fever pitch, while popular music, fashion, books, television, and art morphed right before our eyes.

Change was also taking place on movie screens across the country. The great golden age of cinematic experimentation that flowered in the 1970s, with the debuts of such influential filmmakers as Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and others, grew from the seeds that were planted in the late ‘60s. For starters, the studio system, long the standard model for film production and distribution, was dead. The major studios that remained in business in the late 1960s were using their studios and sound stages to produce more and more television shows in addition to motion pictures, and some studios served more often as distributors for films that had been produced by other parties.

The content and subject matter of movies were also undergoing a sea change, as more adult themes were being openly explored. Sex in the cinema was no longer strictly taboo, though major changes in the way sexuality was displayed on film were still a few years off. But the depiction of cinematic violence was another story. Up to this point in film history, gory movie violence was relegated strictly to grind house and drive-in exploitation films. The landmark work you are about to watch changed that paradigm forever.

Bonnie and Clyde was a point-blank blast from both barrels. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty (who also produced the film) star as the titular duo, while supporting actors include Gene Hackman as Clyde’s brother Buck and Estelle Parsons as Buck’s wife, Blanche.

The film plays fast and loose with historical facts. Michael J. Pollard’s character is a composite of several of Bonnie and Clyde’s running buddies. Beatty and Dunaway meet as adults at the beginning of the film when, in reality, the couple knew each other for years before turning to crime. And it’s unclear what a Texas Ranger (Pyle) is doing in Missouri, but the real-life Frank Hamer never met Bonnie and Clyde until he helped gun them down.

That being said, Bonnie and Clyde gets the period detail exactly right. The cars, the clothes, and the look of small-town Depression era America are perfectly captured. Some of the most controversial elements of the film were its constant tonal shifts between light and dark. Moments of shocking violence (with one brief shot echoing Eisenstein’s Potemkin (1925)) are followed by scenes of light comedy, and the action is punctuated by a bluegrass score that is authentic to the era.

Bonnie and Clyde received ten Academy Award nominations including: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Beatty), Best Actress (Dunaway), Best Supporting Actor (Hackman), Best Supporting Actor (Pollard), Best Supporting Actress (Parsons, winner), Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography (winner). It ranks 42nd on the American Film Institute’s list of the best 100 films of the first 100 years of cinema.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog


Bottle Rocket

1996

91 min
Color

Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Owen Wilson, Wes Anderson
Cinematography: Robert D. Yeoman
Editor: David Moritz
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Robert Musgrave, Andrew Wilson, Lumi Cavazos, James Caan

A couple of years ago, I watched a film called BOTTLE ROCKET. I knew nothing about it, and the movie really took me by surprise. Here was a picture without a trace of cynicism, that obviously grew out of its director’s affection for his characters in particular and for people in general. A rarity.

And the central idea of the film is so delicate, so human: a group of young guys think that their lives have to be filled with risk and danger in order to be real. They don’t know that it’s okay simply to be who they are.

Wes Anderson, at age thirty, has a very special kind of talent: he knows how to convey the simple joys and interactions between people so well and with such richness. This kind of sensibility is rare in movies. Leo McCarey, the director of MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW and THE AWFUL TRUTH, comes to mind. And so does Jean Renoir. I remember seeing Renoir’s films as a child and immediately feeling connected to the characters through his love for them.

It’s the same with Anderson. I’ve found myself going back and watching BOTTLE ROCKET several times. I’m also very fond of his second film, RUSHMORE (1998)—it has the same tenderness, the same kind of grace. Both of them are very funny, but also very moving.

Anderson has a fine sense of how music works against an image. There’s the beautiful ending of RUSHMORE, when Miss Cross removes Max Fischer’s glasses and gazes into the boy’s eyes—really the eyes of her dead husband—as the Faces’ “Ooh La La” plays on the soundtrack.

And I also love the scene in BOTTLE ROCKET when Owen Wilson’s character, Dignan, says, “They’ll never catch me, man, ’cause I’m f***in’ innocent.” Then he runs off to save one of his partners in crime and gets captured by the police, over “2000 Man” by the Rolling Stones.

He—and the music—are proclaiming who he really is: he’s not innocent in the eyes of the law, but he’s truly an innocent. For me, it’s a transcendent moment. And transcendent moments are in short supply these days.

–Martin Scorsese
This tribute originally appeared in the March 2000 issue of Esquire


Bram Stoker’s Dracula

1992

128 min
Color

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: James V. Hart
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Editors: Anne Goursaud, Glen Scantlebury, Nicholas C. Smith
Music: Wojciech Kilar
Cast: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Tom Waits

Everyone remembers their first encounter with Count Dracula. Whether it’s reading the original Bram Stoker novel, or watching the legendary Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee performances (or maybe even watching today’s film), the mystique and allure of the Dracula story sinks its fangs in you and never lets go.

For Francis Ford Coppola, it was reading the Stoker novel to young students at a drama camp where he served as counselor and seeing every Dracula movie that played at his local theater, including ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DRACULA. Coppola even once admitted that his favorite Dracula growing up was John Carradine, who featured in the too-crazy-to-be-true team-up film BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA.

Many years later, it was actually Winona Ryder who set the stage for Coppola to direct today’s film. “She told me she loved this Dracula script that was very much like the book,” Coppola recalls. “And then I thought, well, Dracula was written at the same time as cinema was invented. What if I made Dracula much in the way that the earliest cinema practitioners would have? You know, making a thing that is in fact what it is also about.”

Though it boasts an extraordinary cast featuring Ryder and a menacing Gary Oldman as Dracula, it is arguably Coppola’s decision to use old-fashioned movie magic that lends the movie its lasting charm, especially for classic horror buffs. “In the script there were a million effects, but I wanted to do them all live,” Coppola says. “Nothing in post-production; do them all in the camera. I couldn’t get anyone to take me seriously, so I fired the special effects department and hired my young son, Roman, who was an enthusiast about magic.”

Coppola also eschewed location shooting for soundstage shooting, another hallmark of classic films – and perhaps an unavoidable requirement for Coppola to be involved. “I knew at that time, especially after Apocalypse Now, that any studio would be terrified to send someone like me off to some faraway place where a movie could get out of control,” Coppola admits. “And quite frankly, from my own standpoint, the idea of going to Romania was sort of terrifying. I said, “There I’ll be in Romania in some castle at two in the morning trying to sleep and some looming shadow will come in. And then, for sure, my boyhood fear of all those horror movie figures, it’ll all come back to me.” And with that thought, I decided to make it entirely on a soundstage.”

Soundstage or not, Coppola created an iconic entry in the Dracula legacy, one that pays tribute to what has come and celebrates the art and craft of moviemaking.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Casablanca

1942

102 min
B&W

Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Editor: Owen Marks
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre

CASABLANCA first arrived in theaters in 1942, and, since then, seemingly every iconic moment and unforgettable one-liner from this beloved film has permeated our popular culture, to the extent that people who have never even seen the movie feel as if they have. Such lasting impact usually results from a rare combination of great artists doing the best work of their career and, let’s face it, pure luck.

For example, what if the strict film censorship of the 1940s hadn’t essentially forced the movie to end the way it does (perfectly, as it turns out)? What if, instead of Humphrey Bogart, the role of Rick Blaine had been granted to the rumored front-runner…Ronald Reagan? What if an unproduced play titled “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” hadn’t been unearthed from a pile of discarded work headed for the trashcan?

As most classic movie fans are well aware, the Golden Age of Hollywood was filled to the brim with adaptations. Every literary best-seller and Broadway blockbuster put stars (not to mention dollar signs) in the eyes of studio executives all over Los Angeles, and major motion pictures were being developed from these popular favorites by the hundreds.

What you didn’t often see, however, was an unproduced play getting the star treatment from a major studio like Warner Bros, yet that’s exactly what happened with “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” an unproven commodity from stage writers Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. A Warner story analyst initially thought the piece was “sophisticated hokum,” but by the time the studio was done with it, CASABLANCA would be considered one of the greatest movies ever made.

Most people credit the film’s greatness to its script, but good luck figuring out precisely to whom that credit belongs. Though the script is often credited to the twin brothers Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein (who were the first to be assigned to the project), they weren’t entirely present for the formative stages of the script’s life. In fact, they elected to join Frank Capra in the making of WHY WE FIGHT after the attack on Pearl Harbor, so Howard Koch took over on CASABLANCA. And those are just the credited writers; the uncredited Casey Robinson reportedly spent nearly three weeks on rewrites, and producer Hal Wallis claims the legendary final line came from his own pen.

Of course, we wouldn’t even care who wrote the lines if they hadn’t been delivered so perfectly by CASABLANCA’s extraordinary cast. As is so often the case with classic films, our enjoyment relies as much on the charismatic star wattage of the top-billed names as it does on the supporting cast filling in the gaps. Bogart and Bergman give us one of the screen’s most captivating romances, managing to portray both once-in-a-lifetime love and devastating heartbreak with equal dexterity. As if that weren’t enough, they’ve got beloved personalities like the impish Claude Rains, the underhanded Sydney Greenstreet, and the slithery Peter Lorre adding a touch of humor and a little intrigue to the proceedings.

With that script and these actors, it’s no wonder CASABLANCA has become an annual tradition not only for the Paramount but for movie lovers everywhere. It’s the kind of film you can easily watch once a year (some of us could probably make that once a month), and it will never get old. Does that mean it’s a “perfect” film? If such a thing is possible, I can’t imagine a better candidate for the job.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Cleo from 5 to 7

1962

90 min
B&W

Director: Agnes Varda
Screenplay: Agnes Varda
Cinematography: Paul Bonis, Alain Levent, Jean Rabier
Editors: Pascale Laveirrire, Janine Verneau
Music: Michel Legrand
Cast: Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray, Dorothe Blanck, Michel Legrand

Over the years, the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series has played host to several films, like HIGH NOON, that take place in “real time.” Each of these films uses the real time approach to build tension and bring the plot to a boil over the course of 90 minutes, but that’s not necessarily the goal of every real-time movie.

Take, for example, Agnes Varda’s CLEO FROM 5 TO 7. While the plot might sound suspenseful on paper (a woman must pass the time in Paris while she awaits the results of a test that may reveal she has cancer), Varda is actually much more interested in a delicate exploration of the protagonist’s inner life and the revelations that accompany a brush with death.

After releasing CLEO in 1962, Varda was hailed as the “newest” member of the French New Wave film movement, despite the fact that her debut film (LA POINTE COURTE) had arrived in theaters over five years before the two films that introduced the movement to film lovers around the world, Francois Truffaut’s THE 400 BLOWS and Jean-Luc Godard’s BREATHTLESS. Nevertheless, her inclusion provided a welcome and crucial female perspective to what was otherwise a male-dominated group of filmmakers.

However, though Varda’s approach to editing and cinematography certainly resembled the French New Wave, she was, in many ways, quite different from Godard, Truffaut, and the other members. Whereas they had started their careers as film critics in love with classic Hollywood films, Varda came to film through painting, sculpture, photojournalism, and literature. Perhaps this accounts for the lyrical grace of CLEO, which seems to empathize with its lead character more so than the work of those other directors.

Ultimately, Varda belongs to no particular movement or cinematic approach but, in fact, is in a class all her own. She has made many remarkable films over the years, including LE BONHEUR, VAGABOND, KUNG-FU MASTER! and so many more, and yet many of her best works remained frustratingly difficult to find in the U.S. until recently. If you enjoy CLEO, you owe it to yourself to seek out more of her work.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Clueless

1995

97 min
Color

Director: Amy Heckerling
Screenplay: Amy Heckerling
Cinematography: Bill Pope
Editor: Debra Chiate
Music: David Kitay
Cast: Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd, Donald Faison, Elisa Donovan, Breckin Meyer, Jeremy Sisto, Dan Hedaya

After her directorial debut, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, launched her into the Hollywood stratosphere, Amy Heckerling enjoyed several successful years at the helm of blockbuster films like NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION and LOOK WHO’S TALKING. However, when the latter film’s sequel, LOOK WHO’S TALKING TOO, was dismissed by critics and underperformed at the box office, Heckerling took some time to consider her next big screen move.

Heckerling was eventually struck with inspiration after remembering how much she had enjoyed reading Jane Austen’s Emma in college. Realizing that the story could easily be remade in a modern setting, Heckerling decided to move the story to a Beverly Hills high school. After all, what better way to reboot her career than by updating the teen comedy genre that she had defined in the early 80s? In fact, to capture 90s teenagers as vividly as she had in the earlier film, Heckerling actually attended classes in a real-life Beverly Hills school and took notes on the conversations she overheard.

Initially, Heckerling considered turning the idea into a TV series, even pitching it to Fox with the title “No Worries.” However, Fox claimed that no one would watch a show about teenage girls, so she was forced to rethink the concept as a movie, which went through early drafts with titles like I WAS A TEENAGE TEENAGER and CLUELESS IN CALIFORNIA.

Once the script was finalized, Heckerling had an important decision to make — who would play Cher, the movie’s protagonist? The studio was leaning toward Reese Witherspoon, who already had a few film credits to her name, and they actually made an offer early in the pre-production phase to Sarah Michelle Gellar, who ultimately couldn’t get out of her contract on TV soap All My Children. In the end, Heckerling managed to claim the final decision on the casting, and she felt that Alicia Silverstone was perfect for the part. She was, of course, right.

The cast filled out with a number of young, rising stars on their way to enjoying successful careers, including Donald Faison (“Scrubs”), Jeremy Sisto (“Six Feet Under”), and Paul Rudd (everything). More importantly, the film captured the zeitgeist of 90’s adolescence, officially cementing Amy Heckerling as the “teen whisperer” of Hollywood. As for the executive at Fox who sent the memo claiming that no one wants a show about teenage girls? Let’s just assume he was fired.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Coal Miner’s Daughter

1980

125 min
Color

Director: Michael Apted
Screenplay: Tom Rickman
Cinematography: Ralf D. Bode
Editor: Arthur Schmidt
Music: Owen Bradley
Cast: Sissy Spacek, Tommy Lee Jones, Levon Helm, William Sanderson, Beverly D’Angelo

A biopic based on the remarkable rags-to-riches story of country music icon Loretta Lynn was inevitable, considering how much Hollywood adores real-life stories that are more inspiring than any they could write themselves. But who could have guessed that a British filmmaker would be the one to direct it, or that Sissy Spacek would reveal herself to be capable of capturing not only Lynn’s life but her musicianship as well?

In 1976, Lynn published an autobiography, and Universal Pictures immediately snapped up the film rights. But, believe it or not, Universal executives weren’t actually convinced that Lynn’s story would be a draw for most of the country — they were more interested in gaining access to Lynn’s song catalog to drive lucrative soundtrack sales. Rarely has a studio purchased film rights to a book with the soundtrack in mind, and rarely has a studio been so wrong about the success their film would enjoy.

In fact, because the studio seemed so uninterested in the production of the film itself, the casting process was much more expedient than it typically would be. The studio simply sent a stack of headshots to Lynn and let her choose the face she felt should portray her onscreen. When her eyes fell on the freckled visage of Sissy Spacek, she knew right away that she had found her actress.

The only problem was that Spacek didn’t know right away whether or not she was ready to accept the challenge, which was problematic considering that Lynn had gone rogue and announced the casting to the press before Spacek had even agreed. Having achieved some success in her recent films and counting an Oscar nomination (for CARRIE) among her many accolades, Spacek was hesitant to dive into a role that would rely on her Southern accent and revive the “country girl” stereotype she had worked so hard to minimize. But, as she had so often in her career, Lynn got her way and ultimately convinced Spacek to take the part.

Lynn also had considerable influence over the creative control of the project, demanding that the film’s original director be removed from the project after determining that he had no business telling the story of her life. Seemingly bereft of ideas, the film’s producers simply started watching every movie about musicians they could find in the hopes of finding a director who had proven themselves capable of the genre. Somehow, a 1974 British film named STARDUST found its way into that pile, and, ultimately, that film’s director, Michael Apted, found himself at the helm of COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER.

Though he knew next to nothing about Loretta Lynn, much less American country music or even our popular culture in general, Apted was a veteran of the legendary British documentary series UP, which had followed a group of working class British schoolchildren from adolescence into adulthood. Based on that experience and his own childhood in a British mining town, Apted proved himself more than capable of empathizing with Lynn’s background and guiding Spacek to her Oscar-winning performance.

Of course, the effort that went into that performance was all Spacek’s, as the actress spent over a year on tour with Lynn capturing her speech and singing style. The actress demanded that she be allowed to sing Lynn’s songs herself, rather than simply lip-synching over the audio from Lynn’s albums. The studio wasn’t so sure about this, considering their reasoning for buying the rights to the book in the first place, but guess who convinced them to change their tune and let Spacek sing? Loretta Lynn, of course.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Conversation

1974

113 min
Color

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola
Cinematography: Bill Butler, Haskell Wexler
Editor: Richard Chew
Music: David Shire
Cast: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Frederic Forrest, Cindy Williams, Teri Garr, Harrison Ford

The following is excerpted from an interview with Francis Ford Coppola, conducted by director Brian De Palma for Scraps from the Loft.

BRIAN DE PALMA: How did the idea for The Conversation evolve and when?

FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA: The idea originated in a conversation between me and Irving Kirshner. We were talking about espionage, and he said that most people thought the safest way not to be bugged was to walk in a crowd, but he had heard that there were microphones which were capable of picking out specific voices in a crowd.

And I thought, Wow, that’s a great motif for a film—and it started there, around 1966. I actually started working on it around 1967, but it was an on-again, off-again project which I was just never able to beat until 1969 when I did a first draft.

DE PALMA: The Conversation is such a fantastic idea: being able to hear the same conversation six or seven times, and each time it takes on a slightly different meaning. It’s sort of like Blow Up where you see a photograph at different times and read all kinds of different things into it as the picture goes on. Is that how you started the idea? That is, was it originally a conceptual idea?

COPPOLA: I have to say that this project began differently from other things I’ve done, because instead of starting to write it out of an emotional thing—the emotional identity of the people I knew—I started it as sort of a puzzle, which I’ve never done before and which I don’t think I’ll ever do again. In other words, it started as a premise. I said, “I think I want to do a film about eavesdropping and privacy, and I want to make it about the guy who does it rather than about the people it’s being done to.”

Then somewhere along the line I got the idea of using repetition, of exposing new levels of information not through exposition but by repetition. And not like Rashomon where you present it in different ways each time—let them be the exact lines but have new meanings in context. In other words, as the film goes along, the audience goes with it because you are constantly giving them the same lines they’ve already heard, yet as they learn a little bit more about the situation they will interpret things differently. That was the original idea.

After the film, read the full interview at Scraps from the Loft.


Dirty Dancing

1987

97 min
Color

Director: Emile Ardolino
Screenplay: Eleanor Bergstein
Choreography: Kenny Ortega
Cast: Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, Jerry Orbach, Cynthia Rhodes, Jack Weston, Jane Brucker, Kelly Bishop, Lonny Price, Charles Coles, Wayne Knight

Guilty pleasures. We all have them. You know, popular art that’s not considered high-brow but which nonetheless strikes a chord in our hearts, causing us to embrace the object of our affection with a wink and a nod. The world of popular culture and mass media is full to bursting with guilty pleasures, and every generation has its own fount of material from which to draw. But arguably no other decade has produced more guilty pleasures than the 1980s, including tonight’s beloved classic DIRTY DANCING.

The story details the moment in time that a teenaged girl (Jennifer Grey, daughter of actor Joel Grey of CABARET fame) has a coming of age moment through a relationship with a dance instructor (Patrick Swayze) during a family summer vacation. Approximately a third of the film involves dancing scenes choreographed by Kenny Ortega (later famous for HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL, another guilty pleasure for some), and the finale has been described as the most goose bump-inducing dance scene in movie history.

Originally a low-budget film by a new studio (the now defunct Vestron Pictures) and with no major (at the time) stars (although the cast is uniformly solid), DIRTY DANCING came out of nowhere to become a massive hit and launched Swayze (who had formal dance training at his mother’s Houston studio) as a star.

The film has since earned over $300 million worldwide. It was the first film to sell over a million copies on home video, and the DIRTY DANCING soundtrack generated two multi-platinum albums and multiple singles, including “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life,” which won an Oscar for Best Original Song. The film spawned a television series, a sequel, DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS (2004) and a stage version in 2005.

Over thirty years after its initial release, DIRTY DANCING still retains its massive popularity and continues to serve as a reminder that “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!”

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog


Double Indemnity

1944

107 min
B&W

Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler
Cinematography: John Seitz
Editor: Doane Harrison
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Tom Powers

Not only is tonight’s movie considered to be one of the very best noir films ever made, but it is also typically remembered above all others for cementing the film noir genre as a purveyor of shadowy style and effortless cool.

In DOUBLE INDEMNITY, Fred MacMurray plays Walter Neff, the leading salesman at his insurance firm in Los Angeles. When he visits a client on a house call and finds the client’s wife (Stanwyck) home alone, Neff becomes understandably suspicious when she asks him to sell her additional accident insurance for her husband. Alarmingly to us and to Neff, he agrees to sell her the insurance and falls into an increasingly dangerous spiral of lust, greed, and intrigue.

All the quintessential elements of film noir are here: hard-boiled dialogue, an urban environment steeped in shadows, and Stanwyck’s iconic femme-fatale. This particular film noir is a cut above the rest, thanks to the vivid direction and subtle hints of dark humor provided by legendary writer/director Billy Wilder and his co-writer Raymond Chandler.

All the actors here are delivering career-best performances. MacMurray, who had mainly dabbled in comedies up to this point, had to be convinced to take on this much more serious role. Luckily, Wilder was one of the great convincers in Hollywood history, and MacMurray would eventually consider Walter Neff to be the best role he ever played.

Edward G. Robinson was mainly known, as he still is, for his considerable talents as a screen gangster. In tonight’s film, he actually stays on the right side of the law and ultimately serves as a father figure to MacMurray’s character, forming a poignant relationship between the two characters that stands in stark contrast to the cold, harsh behavior defining the rest of the film.

Though DOUBLE INDEMNITY was decidedly dark, audiences and critics alike were nevertheless able to see the shimmering talent on display in this masterpiece. The Oscars rewarded the film with eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Actress, Director, and Screenplay. It was denied most of these awards by the Leo McCarey film GOING MY WAY. While that Bing Crosby vehicle is indeed a delightful movie, there is no question that DOUBLE INDEMNITY has better navigated the tests of time, remembered by all film lovers as a major landmark in cinema’s history.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Dr. No

1962

110 min
Color

Director: Terence Young
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkeley Mather
Cinematography: Ted Moore
Editor: Peter Hunt
Music: John Barry, Monty Norman
Cast: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee

The scene is a gaming table in a London casino. The camera focuses on Sylvia Trench. She has just lost a sizable sum of money. She stares across the table into the face of a man whose back is to the camera as he says:

“I admire your courage Miss…?”

“Trench, Sylvia Trench,” she replies. “And I admire your luck, Mr…?”

Reverse angle. The camera starts low, focusing on the man’s hands and then travels upwards as he raises a lighter to the cigarette in his mouth. We see his face for the first time and he lights the cigarette he replies, “Bond, James Bond.” Cue the jangling, electric guitar theme music.

It’s an offhand introduction made with confidence and assurance, which has become a signature moment in this long-running film series. James Bond is required to speak his name in precisely this fashion in every film. But it was Scottish actor Sean Connery who said it first, and it is Sean Connery who many believe is the greatest James Bond of them all. Other actors have played the part over the years, including one-hit wonder George Lazenby, the late, great Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and the most Bond, Daniel Craig. But nobody does it better than Connery.

The original novels by British writer Ian Fleming emerged in 1953 with CASINO ROYALE. Fleming kept churning the novels out over the years, and the books sold well in both the U.K. and the U.S. When President Kennedy remarked that the Bond books were among his favorite reading material, what had been a modest success became an overnight, international, best-selling sensation. The novels were fairly realistic (to an extent), with colorful villains, liberal doses of sex, plenty of violence, and lurid pulp thrills. It was only a matter of time until a film version was produced.

DR. NO presents the perfect template for all future Bond films. There’s an exotic locale (Jamaica) and a larger-than-life super villain, who comes with a diabolical plan and an underwater/underground lair that features a nuclear reactor. There’s also Ursula Andress, as Honey Ryder, making the first iconic “Bond girl” entrance midway through the film. Throw in Jack Lord as CIA agent Felix Leiter (a part which prefigures his later role on television’s HAWAII FIVE-O), a great John Barry score, distinctive set designs by Ken Adam, and you have the perfect James Bond adventure.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog


Friday

1995

91 min
Color

Director: F. Gary Gray
Screenplay: Ice Cube, DJ Pooh
Cinematography: Gerry Lively
Editor: John Carter
Cast: Ice Cube, Chris Tucker, Nia Long, Tom Lister Jr., John Witherspoon, Regina King, Bernie Mac

Though they recognized the artistic merit of acclaimed L.A. dramas like BOYZ IN THE HOOD and MENACE II SOCIETY, the trio of director F. Gary Gray and co-screenwriters Ice Cube and DJ Pooh wanted to see a more joyous, lighthearted depiction of the South Central hometown they knew and loved. So they decided to make it themselves.

As Cube recalls, “Everybody was looking at our neighborhood like it was hell on Earth, like the worst place you can grow up in America. And I’m like, Why? I didn’t see it all that way.” Having grown up in the same area knowing a lot of the same people, Cube and Pooh were the perfect writing partners to bring FRIDAY to life, drawing on a lot of the unforgettable characters and events of their own youth.

They successfully pitched New Line Cinema on their vision and got the greenlight to make it. In Cube’s words, “We thought it was a good bet because New Line was already in the business of doing these kind of movies. They had done HOUSE PARTY. They understood the black movie market.”

For many looking at the project from the outside, it seemed like a risky venture. It would be Gray’s feature-length directorial debut (after a busy few years directing music videos for Cypress Hill, Usher, Outkast, Queen Latifah and more). But Cube felt he was the right person for the job, saying “I wanted Gary to direct because he was a talented director from the hood. You didn’t have to teach him these little nuances that were in the movie. He knew all the hood flavor that needed to be in the movie.”

It would also be Cube’s first comedy (though his dramatic work in BOYZ had been a revelation that silenced any doubts he belonged on the silver screen). But those who knew him personally were already very familiar with his comedic side. Regina King recalled, “I got to know Cube in between scenes on the set of BOYZ. Regardless of how you saw him in BOYZ, outside of that serious role, he laughed and cracked and bagged and did all those things that everyone else was doing their early 20s. He definitely has a comedic side. He definitely has his timing right.”

King was one of several rising stars who filled out the cast around Ice Cube, including stand-ups whose legendary sets had Hollywood scouts buzzing. Bernie Mac makes an impression as always, but the career that FRIDAY really sent soaring was Chris Tucker’s. You’d never guess he totally bombed his first audition after showing up unprepared and seemingly unenthusiastic about the role. But Cube and the rest of the cast fought for him, and thank goodness for that. FRIDAY would not have been the same without him.

New Line gave the FRIDAY team $3.5 million and 20 days to shoot the entire film. When all was said and done, they finished on time, and the film grossed ten times its budget at the box office. Even more rewardingly, it made a lasting impression on our culture…and in more ways than just “Bye Felisha” #ByeFelicia.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Funny Girl

1968

169 min
Color

Director: William Wyler
Screenplay: Isobel Lennart
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Editors: Maury Winetrobe, William Sands
Music: Jule Styne, Robert Merrill
Cast: Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif, Kay Medford, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Mae Questel

Barbra Streisand is one of the most versatile entertainers of all time. Over the course of her remarkable career, she’s been a singer, songwriter, author, actress, film producer and director. She’s won two Academy Awards, eight Grammy Awards, five Emmy Awards, a Special Tony Award, an American Film Institute Award, and a Kennedy Center Honors award, and she is one of 12 people who have accomplished the EGOT, winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award.

Streisand began her career in the 1960s as a singer, and she quickly became one of the best-selling music artists of all time, ultimately selling more than 71.5 million albums in the United States and 145 million records worldwide. Early on, her remarkable singing talent quickly led to a series of television specials, beginning with COLOR ME BARBRA on CBS television in 1965.

After records and television, Streisand set her sights on the motion picture industry, where she again rose rapidly to the top of the profession. Over time, Barbra Streisand became the first woman to direct, produce, write, and star in her own films. Her earliest hits include HELLO DOLLY (1969), ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER (1970), THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT (1970), WHAT’S UP DOC? (1972), and UP THE SANDBOX (1972). She won her second Academy Award for writing the song “Evergreen” for the 1976 remake of A STAR IS BORN, in which Streisand co-starred with Kris Kristofferson

Streisand made her film debut in FUNNY GIRL, in which she reprised the role of Ziegfeld star Fanny Brice, a part she had originally played on Broadway. The film is a highly fictionalized account of the life and times of Brice, but the part was tailor-made for Streisand to show her stuff. Brice, an impoverished girl from the Lower East Side of New York City, rose to fame and won audiences’ hearts everywhere with her comic antics and powerful singing. Sound familiar?

FUNNY GIRL received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture of the Year, Best Actress (Streisand, winner), Best Supporting Actress (Kay Medford), Best Cinematography and Best Editing. A sequel, FUNNY LADY, followed in 1975 with Streisand and co-starring the late James Caan.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog



 

Giant

1956

201 min
Color

Director: George Stevens
Screenplay: Fred Guiol, Ivan Moffat
Cinematography: William C. Mellor
Editor: William W. Hornbeck
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Mercedes McCambridge, Jane Withers

Inspired by the remarkable story of Texas oilman Glenn McCarthy, who made his first $1 million at age 26, author Edna Ferber wrote GIANT, a Texas-sized epic that follows the Benedict family over a tumultuous 25-year period. The novel was perfect screen material, and every studio under the sun was pleading with Ferber to sell them the rights. But Ferber refused them all, save for the modest proposal of director George Stevens. The proposal? That he wouldn’t change a thing about the book.

Stevens’s authenticity extended to the choice of shooting location: aside from a few exteriors filmed in Virginia, GIANT would be shot in Marfa, TX. If that doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, consider this: the remarkable Benedict Mansion set had to be built at the Warner Bros. lot in Hollywood and shipped to Marfa in pieces on a railroad train.

It was there in Marfa that one of the greatest casts ever assembled gave some of the finest performances of their careers. All the stars of Hollywood were fighting over the role of rancher and patriarch Bick Benedict, with names like Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, and William Holden whispered in connection with the part. But Stevens wisely recognized that it would be easier to age a young man than to accomplish the reverse, so he went with 29-year-old Rock Hudson.

In his head, Stevens actually pictured Grace Kelly as Bick’s wife Leslie, with Elizabeth Taylor as a Plan B. Though he was an admirer of Taylor’s, Stevens worried that her mere 23 years of life hadn’t adequately prepared her for such a mature role. Wisely, Stevens asked Hudson to choose, and Hudson went with Taylor, a decision he certainly wouldn’t regret. The two bonded extremely well, leading gossip columnists to issue the usual rumors about a love affair blossoming on set. But hindsight has shown that the two were simply very close friends, partying into the night and drinking chocolate martinis together.

While those two were turning in the performances of their lives, another legend was taking shape via the third point of the film’s love triangle, luckless dirt farmer Jett Rink. Though Alan Ladd and Montgomery Clift had both been considered for the role, the task ultimately fell to James Dean, who was willing to take the part for the minimum salary. Stevens may have initially felt that he “got what he paid for,” as the two clashed frequently throughout the production. Stevens was not impressed with some of Dean’s “Actor’s Studio” tendencies, and in return Dean would often behave petulantly and frequently showed up late, causing the film to go over schedule.

Hudson wasn’t a huge fan of Dean’s either, but Taylor tells a different story, saying, “We would sometimes sit up until three in the morning, and he would tell me about his past, his mother, minister, his loves, and the next day he would just look straight through me as if he’d given away or revealed too much of himself. It would take…maybe a couple of days before we’d be back on friendship terms. He was very afraid to give of himself.”

On September 30, 1955, before GIANT was even completed, James Dean died in a car accident at the age of 24. Although he wasn’t able to celebrate the release of GIANT into theatres around the world, Dean nevertheless participated posthumously in its success. When the Oscar nominations were announced that year, Dean’s name would be called along with Hudson’s in the Best Actor category, and, for guiding these occasionally temperamental young actors and creating an epic film for the ages, George Stevens would go on to win the Best Director statuette.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 


The Godfather

1972

175 min
Color

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Cinematography: Gordon Willis
Editors: William Reynolds, Peter Zinner
Music: Nino Rota
Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, Sterling Hayden, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Abe Vigoda

When Mario Puzo’s The Godfather arrived on shelves in 1969, it became a best-selling hit, albeit a pulpy, often trashy one. So moviegoers and industry insiders could be forgiven for assuming that the screen adaptation would be nothing more than an artless gangster picture filled with surface pleasures, particularly since Puzo himself would be writing the screenplay. But what director Francis Ford Coppola delivered instead was a stunning piece of American mythology that would eventually cement its place in our pop culture lexicon.

Considering just how remarkable the film turned out to be, you’d assume that it must have been a passion project for Coppola. Far from it. After losing a ton of money producing George Lucas’s flop THX 1138, Coppola’s young production company, American Zoetrope, was near bankruptcy. To make matters worse, Coppola was a few hundred thousand dollars in debt. So, believe it or not, when Paramount Pictures approached Coppola to direct THE GODFATHER, he took the job simply for the paycheck.

Paramount’s motives for hiring Coppola weren’t exactly artistically motivated either. Although no one would’ve admitted it out loud, it seemed that, after other well-known directors had turned the film down, the studio looked to Coppola simply because he was Italian and knew how to make movies. Not the most promising start to a major film production.

But, as crude as Paramount’s thinking was, it may also have been spot-on. For it was during a boat ride to Italy to scout locations for the film that the epic potential of the story revealed itself to Coppola, whose Italian heritage made both the family drama and the subtext of immigrants making a life for themselves in America very personal in nature.

Unfortunately, it was when the movie suddenly became personal for Coppola that the headaches and ulcers arrived in full force, with the studio fighting the director tooth and nail over seemingly every decision. When Coppola became convinced that Marlon Brando and Al Pacino were the right actors to play the central characters of the story, the studio disagreed on both counts. Pacino had only made three movies, so the studio preferred Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, or Burt Reynolds, all of whom would have been totally wrong for the role of Michael Corleone. Even after relenting and letting Coppola have his way, the studio threatened to fire Pacino on multiple occasions, until they began to realize while watching the daily footage that a star was being born right in front of their eyes.

And then there was the nightmare that was late-career Marlon Brando, who had made enemies of seemingly every producer in town. You’d have to be crazy to want to work with this bratty, selfish, mean-spirited genius, and Coppola was just the right amount of crazy. After much back-and-forth, the studio agreed under one condition: Brando would have to audition, something Coppola knew the great actor would never agree to do. So Coppola simply showed up to Brando’s house one day to “rehearse” the character of Vito Corleone and “just happened to bring a camera along.” Brando unknowingly auditioned, the studio executives were blown away and agreed to hire him, and the actor actually behaved throughout the production on the way to an Oscar-winning performance.

The tensions on the GODFATHER set became the stuff of legend, and the atmosphere started to affect Coppola. In a fit of paranoia, he became convinced that his crew were all trying to get him fired. His fears were confirmed when, during a trip to the men’s room, he overheard two crew members ranting about his inexperience as he sat unseen in one of the stalls.

But history tells a different story than the one those two crew members shared that day. When it finally arrived in theaters, THE GODFATHER would become the highest-grossing film of all time, topping long-time record holder GONE WITH THE WIND, and, much to Coppola’s delight, his peers would validate his abilities with 11 Oscar nominations for the film, which would go on to win Best Picture.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer



 

The Godfather: Part II

1974

200 min
Color

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo
Cinematography: Gordon Willis
Editors: Barry Malkin, Richard Marks, Peter Zinner
Music: Nino Rota
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, Bruno Kirby

The conditions on the set of THE GODFATHER: PART II couldn’t have been more different from the trials and tribulations of the original film, particularly where director Francis Ford Coppola and star Al Pacino were concerned. Whereas the first GODFATHER had been plagued with disagreements and constant threats on both Coppola’s and Pacino’s jobs, that film’s rampant success at the box office had Paramount Pictures practically on their knees begging Coppola to direct a sequel as soon as possible.

As you might imagine, Coppola was hesitant to accept the job. The stress of the first film had nearly hospitalized him, not to mention the fact that sequels so rarely live up to the artistic standard set by the originals. Coppola even went so far as to suggest Martin Scorsese for the job before finally agreeing to take it himself, but he had a few conditions. Firstly, he wanted the sequel to flow seamlessly from the first film so that the two would feel connected, which paved the way for the “Godfather Saga” presentation that combined the two films into one chronologically-ordered epic to be aired over four nights on television. Among his other demands: the funding to direct an original film called THE CONVERSATION, the right to direct a production for the San Francisco Opera, and the right to do the screenplay for 1974’s THE GREAT GATSBY. Clearly, he had a lot of clout at this point.

Once he finally set his mind to it, Coppola actually came up with a brilliant idea for PART II – in his own words, “juxtaposing the ascension of the family under Vito Corleone with the decline of the family under his son Michael. I had always wanted to write a screenplay that told the story of a father and a son at the same age. They were both in their thirties and I would integrate the two stories…In order not to merely make GODFATHER I over again, I gave GODFATHER II this double structure by extending the story in both the past and in the present.”

This approach would require Coppola to find an actor who could play young Vito Corleone, a formidable task considering the older version had been played to perfection by Marlon Brando in the first film. After testing Robert De Niro for the role, Coppola felt that “he had a sort of stately bearing, as if he really was the young Vito who would grow into that older man who was Marlon Brando in GODFATHER I. He had grace.’

There’s a good explanation for that grace: De Niro had closely studied Brando’s style during his acting school days and was able to faithfully recreate Brando’s demeanor and voice. In fact, De Niro did such a great job in the role that he was awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, making Vito Corleone the only character that has brought an Academy Award to two different actors.

Critics were not as kind to PART II as they had been to the original, and many of them took issue with Coppola’s decision to cut back and forth between young Vito in the past and his grown son Michael in the present. But there was no doubt that Coppola had once again proven himself a master of cinematic language and a once-in-a-generation storyteller, and audiences responded by sending yet another GODFATHER movie soaring to the top of the box office charts. In the years to come, critical consensus eventually came around, and THE GODFATHER: PART II is now considered one of the greatest sequels ever made.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 


Goodfellas

1990

146 min
Color

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Editors: James Kwei, Thelma Schoonmaker
Cast: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino

Today, we think of Martin Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS as one of the best films of all time, a movie that would probably be considered the greatest gangster picture period if not for THE GODFATHER. It’s highly quotable, on top of all the lists, and a critical darling. How far this movie has come, then, from the days of its initial previews when audiences walked out, leaving terrible reviews in their wake.

It might surprise you to know that Scorsese never had any real interest in making a mafia movie, believing that THE GODFATHER had closed the book on that genre 20 years earlier. But the director was so taken with journalist Nicholas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, and its focus on the lower pegs of the mafia system, that Scorsese realized he could tell a totally different story. The only question was: could he find a way to translate Pileggi’s fast and energetic writing style to the screen?

In order to answer that question with a resounding “yes,” Scorsese once again dipped into his cinematic bag of tricks, a veritable wealth of stylistic knowledge derived from his life-long love of the movies. Thus, GOODFELLAS is graced with such diverse elements as French New Wave touches (freeze frames and jump cuts), riveting voiceover narration that harkens back to the Golden Age of film noir, and some of Scorsese’s own hallmarks like his ingenious use of popular music.

All that was needed were the right actors to make the movie really sing, and Scorsese had Ray Liotta in mind for the lead role of Henry Hill. This, of course, was cause for concern to the producers, as Liotta had never carried a major studio film before. But the actor generated a lot of buzz with his supporting turn in Jonathan Demme’s SOMETHING WILD, and after a long talk with producer Irwin Winkler, Liotta had the job.

Much easier to cast were the other two “fellas,” as Scorsese simply recycled his brilliant pairing of Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci from RAGING BULL. Initially, Scorsese felt uncertain that the supporting part would be worthy of De Niro, but the actor was excited to do it. His participation even boosted funding for the film to the highest it had ever been for a Scorsese production.

Though the movie was clearly “ahead of its time” for the preview audiences, once GOODFELLAS hit theaters, critics and audiences loved it. The film received several Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture, and Joe Pesci nabbed the statuette for Best Supporting Actor. But most importantly, the film is now considered one of Scorsese’s masterpieces and a timeless entry in a distinctly American film genre.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

1966

178 min
Color

Director: Sergio Leone
Screenplay: Agenore Incrocci, Sergio Leone, Furio Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni
Cinematography: Tonino Delli Colli
Editors: Eugenio Alabiso, Nino Baragli
Music: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Aldo Giuffre, Luigi Pistilli, Rada Rassimov

Even if you haven’t seen Sergio Leone’s masterpiece THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, it may feel as though you have. You’ve seen parodies or clips of the iconic stare-downs between Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach, and you’ve certainly heard the legendary score from Ennio Morricone (the theme rose all the way up to #2 on the pop charts!). What’s most impressive about this film is that it manages to transcend all that noise and remains as fresh and vital when you do get around to seeing it as it was when it was first released.

In theory, the title refers to the three leads of the film: Clint Eastwood as a nomadic gunman without a care in the world, Lee Van Cleef as a viciously cruel bounty hunter, and Eli Wallach as a seemingly inept bandit with a big mouth. Don’t waste your time trying to decide which character is the good, bad, or ugly, though – it seems like there’s a little bit of everything in all three of them.

While it has become arguably the most famous of Sergio Leone’s collaborations with Clint Eastwood, this film was actually the third in a trilogy of movies featuring Eastwood’s “Man with No Name.” It was this trilogy that made Eastwood a global star, particularly in the United States, where the entire trilogy was released in the span of a single year. Eastwood and Leone might have gone on to make even greater films, but they began fighting frequently during the final days of this production, rendering it the last of their films together. That being said, ask Eastwood about Leone today, and he’ll tell you that he owes a great deal to the Italian director.

Part of their conflict arose due to the increasing focus on Eli Wallach’s character during the shooting of the film, as it meant less screen time for Eastwood (who ultimately saw several of his scenes cut). Wallach impressed Leone with his funny and gutsy performance, and rightly so – the movie gets an extra jolt of energy every time Wallach arrives on-screen.

These wonderful performances are all tied together by Morricone’s remarkable music. The great composer scored all but the first of Leone’s films, making his inimitable musical style the de facto sound of spaghetti Westerns. His irrevocable stamp on the genre and on cinema history is evidenced in the dozens of films and filmmakers he has influenced, most notably Quentin Tarantino (who has even worked with Morricone himself). So important was Morricone’s music to this film in particular that Leone actually filmed the climactic final shoot-out with Morricone’s (already completed) score playing on set.

Surprising as it may seem, considering how beloved the film is today, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY was met with confusion and derision from the film critics of its day, and the lengthy runtime had most in Hollywood convinced that no one would be willing to take this journey. But boy, were those audiences willing! The film was a massive box office success on its way to becoming a Western classic.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Goonies

1985

114 min
Color

Director: Richard Donner
Screenplay: Chris Columbus
Cinematography: Nick McLean
Editor: Michael Kahn
Music: Dave Grusin
Cast: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Ke Huy Quan, Joe Pantoliano, Anne Ramsey

At the peak of his filmmaking powers, Steven Spielberg had so many great ideas that he didn’t even have enough time to direct them all, which was a boon for other directors hoping to get their own big break.

The first example of this phenomenon was POLTERGEIST. Spielberg co-wrote the film and was excited about getting it made, but contractual obligations on E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL prevented him from taking the director’s chair on the project, leaving the job in the capable hands of Austin’s own Tobe Hooper (THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE).

It happened again a few years later with THE GOONIES. In this case, Spielberg came up with the initial story but ultimately decided to take a backseat in the creative process as a producer, focusing instead on his Oscar-nominated adaptation of THE COLOR PURPLE. Script duties were assigned to Chris Columbus, who had proven himself a genre master one year earlier with his screenplay for GREMLINS. His script for THE GOONIES proved to be another success story, and he ultimately parlayed this winning streak into a prosperous directing career, helming such beloved classics as HOME ALONE, MRS. DOUBTFIRE, and the first two HARRY POTTER films.

But the direction of THE GOONIES fell to Richard Donner, who by this time had already made one of the all-time-great horror films (THE OMEN) and one of the all-time-great superhero films (SUPERMAN). Unsurprisingly, he turned today’s film into one of the all-time-great cinematic adventure yarns.

Donner would later admit that the many special effects headaches he encountered on SUPERMAN couldn’t prepare him for one of the most challenging tasks a director could ever face: working with a large group of young actors. Though his cast for THE GOONIES were always professional and delivered remarkable performances, he recalls how difficult it was to manage them when they were all together.

His efforts certainly paid off. The film arrived in the summer of 1985 to enthusiastic reviews and great box office results. As they had with POLTERGEIST, there were those in the industry who loudly wondered how much Spielberg had “helped” the officially credited director in the making of the film. The posters certainly didn’t help — the usual credit “A Richard Donner Film” was printed below the film title. Above the title? “Steven Spielberg Presents.”

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Grease

1978

110 min
Color

Director: Randal Kleiser
Screenplay: Bronte Woodard
Cinematography: Wilmer Butler
Editor: John F. Burnett
Music: Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Cast: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Didi Conn, Jeff Conaway, Eve Arden, Frankie Avalon, Joan Blondell, Sid Caesar

On February 14, 1972, a light, entertaining, and occasionally raunchy musical named “Grease” arrived on Broadway and began captivating audiences with its recreation of high school life in 1950s America and the rock and roll music that had provided the soundtrack. Including everything from gang violence to teen pregnancy, composers/lyricists Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey used the open-minded platform that Broadway provided to tell a teenage tale with more than a little edge, and they were rewarded with a record-breaking run that lasted until 1980.

Naturally, Hollywood wanted a piece of that success. Paramount Pictures snapped up the film rights and had just the man for the leading role of Danny Zuko – newly minted sensation John Travolta. Travolta’s iconic performance in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER not only made him an overnight star but also gave him considerable power in Hollywood. So much so, in fact, that Travolta significantly influenced the hiring of director Randal Kleiser (who had directed Travolta in the TV movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble”) and leading lady, Olivia Newton-John.

Travolta’s efforts toward improving his dancing for FEVER paid dividends once again in GREASE, and this time he proved to be a more-than-competent singer as well, holding his own with pop singer Newton-John. The two young leads were also surrounded by a number of showbiz veterans, each bringing their own particular brand of star power to the proceedings. From Sid Caesar and Eve Arden to Frankie Avalon and Joan Blondell, the film had a little bit of everything to win over audiences.

And it worked. GREASE was a hit with critics and audiences alike. In the U.S., it still remains (adjusted for inflation) the third highest grossing musical of all time behind only THE SOUND OF MUSIC and MY FAIR LADY.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Groundhog Day

1993

101 min
Color

Director: Harold Ramis
Screenplay: Danny Rubin, Harold Ramis
Cinematography: John Bailey
Editor: Pembroke J. Herring
Music: George Fenton
Cast: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brian Doyle-Murray

After completing the script for GROUNDHOG DAY – his very first – writer Danny Rubin handed it over to producer Trevor Albert, who know that only one man was right for the role of curmudgeonly weatherman Phil Connors: Bill Murray.

“Bill’s reaction was positive, but he is whimsical and challenging,” Albert remembers. “He came into our office in L.A. to talk about it. He got up and said, “Guys, walk with me.” We walked out to the parking lot, and he got into his Maserati. He started the engine and slowly started to drive away. He finally said, “O.K., I want to do it,” then drove off into the night.”

Having Bill Murray topline your film in 1993 was a boon for box office, given his meteoric stardom following smash hits like CADDYSHACK, STRIPES and GHOSTBUSTERS. And it didn’t hurt to have his frequent collaborator Harold Ramis behind the camera as director, though this would prove to be the film that brought long-simmering tensions between the two to an irreversible boil. It would be their last film together.

After the cast was rounded out with Andie MacDowell as the female lead and Stephen Tobolowsky as the infamous Ned Ryerson, the production kicked off in the authentic – and very, very cold – American Midwest. “Brian Doyle-Murray [Bill’s brother, who played the town’s mayor] and I put a little peppermint schnapps in our hot chocolate,” MacDowell recalls. “Not enough to get drunk, but just enough to warm us up.”

It didn’t help to settle moods when, according to legend, Murray was actually bitten by a groundhog on set. That encounter, plus the intense cold, seems to have lent themselves to Murray’s portrayal of a really disagreeable man. The result is a character closer to the one he portrayed in SCROOGED, but in an ultimately much warmer (ironically) film.

The other result was massive success at the box office. Unlike many classics we play at the Paramount that took time to find their audiences, GROUNDHOG DAY was an instant favorite and a box office smash. But it has grown even more in admiration over the years, exhibiting a timeless quality that brings people back to it on an annual basis. “It’s set in a time and place nonspecific enough that it still feels relevant now,” Albert says. “We wanted it to have a fable quality. Maybe that’s why it has sustained itself.”

When Ramis fell ill in 2014, Murray paid his first visit to his old friend and filmmaking partner in more than 20 years. And after Ramis passed away, Murray released a typically short and sweet statement that still managed to say it all: “Harold Ramis and I together did The National Lampoon show off Broadway, ‘Meatballs,’ ‘Stripes,’ ‘Caddyshack,’ ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Groundhog Day.’ He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him.”

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


High Noon

1952

111 min
B&W

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Carl Foreman
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Editor: Harry Gerstad
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney, Jr., Harry Morgan

The western movie can stake a rightful claim to being the first codified film genre. Edwin S. Porter filmed THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY in 1903 and in only twelve minutes introduced many of the narrative tropes that define the genre: masked outlaws, a train, a robbery, a dance hall, on-location photography (actually, New Jersey), a pursuit on horseback, gunplay and an iconic final scene in which the leader of the outlaw gang aims at the camera with his six-shooter and fires point blank at the audience.

Throughout the silent era and into the sound age, the western proved a popular and commercially successful film staple. Relatively cheap to produce and widely appealing, westerns mainly took the forms of serials and B-movies featuring a who’s who of cowboy action heroes (including some that sang). But before long, filmmakers realized the genre was just as capable of producing rich and thoughtful stories as any other.

A defining example is HIGH NOON, featuring Gary Cooper as Hollywood’s perfect hero, the very embodiment of integrity and grace in one of the greatest Westerns ever made. As the newly married town marshal Will Kane, he must balance an innate sense of justice and duty with loyalty to his beautiful new-and pacifist-bride Amy (Kelly) when he is left by an ungrateful town to face a gang of deadly outlaws, led by the vicious Frank Miller (McDonald). Adding to the suspense of Kane’s dilemma is that the film takes place in “real time” allowing Kane and the audience to count down the minutes to the inevitable showdown.

This masterpiece is frequently interpreted as a parable about artists left to “stand alone” and face prosecution during the HUAC (House un-American Activities Committee) Hollywood blacklisting. Howard Hawks allegedly devised RIO BRAVO (1959) as an answer to HIGH NOON’S “wimpiness.” And John Wayne once declared HIGH NOON un-American. He was apparently offended by the ending of the film (which Don Siegel paid homage to in DIRTY HARRY (1971)).

Prior to this film, Gary Cooper had already received four Best Actor nominations: MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1937), SERGEANT YORK (1942, winner), THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1943) and FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS (1944). Fred Zinnemann had already received a Best Director nomination for THE SEARCH (1948). In a long and illustrious career, Zinnemann’s films received a total of 65 Oscar nominations, and 19 actors who appeared in his films received nominations.

HIGH NOON received 7 Academy Award nominations including: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Cooper, winner), Best Screenplay, Best Film Editing (Williams and Gerstad, winner), Best Music, Scoring (Tiomkin, winner) and Best Music, Song (“Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin”, winner). There was a made-for-television sequel, HIGH NOON PART II: RETURN OF WILL KANE in 1980. HIGH NOON ranks number 27 on the American Film Institute’s list of top 100 American films.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog


His Girl Friday

1940

92 min
B&W

Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Charles Lederer
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Editor: Gene Havlick
Music: Morris Stoloff
Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, Helen Mack, Ernest Truex, Clarence Kolb, Porter Hall, Roscoe Karns

The sub-genre of romantic comedy films known as screwball comedies came of age in the 1930s and reached their zenith in the early 1940s. The first film to be widely recognized and acknowledged as “screwball” was Frank Capra’s IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. While there is no authoritative list of the defining characteristics of the screwball comedy (in other words, “it is what we say it is”), those films considered to be definitive genre works usually feature farcical situations, a combination of physical slapstick with fast-paced repartee, and a plot involving courtship and marriage or remarriage.

Central to the screwball formula is the head-on collision of a strong-willed man and an even stronger willed woman. The man and woman usually meet under trying circumstances and take an immediate disliking towards each other. They will fight, bicker, and argue their way through the course of the narrative and they will, of course, be together in the final act.

Screwball comedy requires a lot of elements to be successful. First, the script has to be razor-sharp and smart, full of good, witty dialogue and clever situations. Second, the director must be in complete control of the material, orchestrating the actions and the performances perfectly. Finally, there must be two extremely strong leads, an actor and actress who are well-matched, who can give as well as they get and who have that most elusive of on-screen qualities: chemistry.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY is arguably one of the funniest films ever made. It’s certainly one of the fastest paced movies ever made, and how the leads managed to get their lines out at the pace set by director Howard Hawks is a marvel. Rapid-fire, machine-gun delivery of dialogue, most of it overlapping, was a directorial signature of Hawks and he used the technique in many of his comedies. HIS GIRL FRIDAY is an adaptation of the Ben Hecht and Charles Mac Arthur stage play The Front Page (which was first filmed in 1931) with one big difference. Here, Hawks gives the ace reporter role to cinematic ball-of-fire Rosalind Russell, who takes the part and runs to daylight with it.

The action begins when Russell informs Cary Grant, her suave newspaper managing editor and newly minted ex-husband, that she’s leaving the paper and planning to remarry. Grant, a handsome, hard-boiled type, wouldn’t dare show his true feelings for Russell, but he gets his way through the only true love of his ex’s life: a breaking, front-page, headline story. Her intended, Ralph Bellamy, stands by with his hat in his hand (a part he played in many films) while Russell and Grant chase the story.

As in other Hawks films, HIS GIRL FRIDAY focuses on a group of men who are thrown together and either have to work together or against each other. And, as in many of his films, Hawks drops a remarkable woman square into the mix and shows that she’s the slickest operator of them all. Russell and Grant make a terrific comic team, Hawks moves the action at a breakneck pace, and the supporting cast of veteran character actors is first rate.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY was remade by Billy Wilder as THE FRONT PAGE in 1974 with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau and again in 1988 as SWITCHING CHANNELS with the action relocated from a newspaper to a television newsroom. But, none of them come close to this unforgettable classic, which ranks 19th on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 funniest American films of all time.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog


Holy Motors

2012

115 min
Color

Director: Leos Carax
Screenplay: Leos Carax
Cinematography: Yves Cape, Caroline Champetier
Editor: Nelly Quettier
Cast: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Elise Lhomeau, Jeanne Disson, Michel Piccoli, Leos Carax

The very picture of precocious, Leos Carax cuts his teeth writing film criticism for Cahiers du Cinéma as a teenager, then spends his 20s making movie magic. By age 31, he’s directed three breathtaking indies: BOY MEETS GIRL, MAUVAIS SANG, and LES AMANTS DU PONT-NEUF. Each waxes poetic on Parisian love, stars muse Denis Lavant, and creates indelible images cribbed by everyone from Quentin Tarantino to Noah Baumbach.

But there’s a hitch – LES AMANTS DU PONT-NEUF encounters dramatic shooting stalls, a runaway budget, and a disastrous initial reception. The cursed production strangely spirals when Denis Lavant injures himself tying his shoe. Goodwill burning a hole in his pocket, Carax raises and spends a titanic amount of money on a replica of the famous bridge. Critically, the film is not distributed in America until eight years later, and only because Juliette Binoche has just won an Oscar for THE ENGLISH PATIENT. It arrives at roughly the same time as…

…Carax’s fourth film, the Lavant-less POLA X, a beautiful-but-bewildering bellyflop that all but destroys his career. A loose adaptation of Herman Melville’s equally puzzling Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, this metaphysical exploration of class and incest truly begs the question, “Who is this for?” One possible answer: Roger Ebert, who announced that he “would rather see one movie like this than a thousand BRING IT ONs.” (Don’t worry, I set Rog straight on the merits of cheer-ocracy.)

Carax retreats, hoping to secure funding for an English-language film. It does not work; he is box office poison. It is thirteen years before his next film.

Now in his 50s, the boy wonder returns with a fevered meditation on the toll of performance, a masterpiece that soars even as it provokes, nay, maddens. It’s hard to imagine Carax happy with a four-million-dollar budget and shooting cheaply on digital. But maybe it’s what he needed. And it doesn’t hurt to have the help of brilliant cinematographers Yves Cape and Caroline Champetier.

Here, the director himself graces the screen, alone in a hotel room, but for a small dog. He searches the wall for a keyhole and finds it, his pointer finger – the key. What lies beyond is a dark theater, full of people, mid-movie. Who are they watching?

Lavant plays Monsieur Oscar, now also middle-aged, leaving a family behind for the back seat of a limo. There, he transforms. Into a beggar, into a mo-cap artist, into a lunatic. Into a band leader, into a hitman, into everything. Over the course of a day, Lavant traverses the city performing innumerable, rapturous, and increasingly confounding acting jobs. With rare (and unsatisfying) exceptions, there is no clear audience.

It begs the question, “Who is this for?”

Named Best Foreign Language Film of 2012 by the Austin Film Critics Association, HOLY MOTORS effectively trademarks “Meta” nearly a decade before Mark Zuckerberg. It is later declared the second-best film of the decade by Cahiers du Cinéma. (Well, technically number one, because Twin Peaks: The Return isn’t actually a movie. Come on!)

This peerless feature must be seen on the big screen to be believed.

–Tanner Carlos Hadfield, Hyperreal Film Club


How to Steal a Million

1967

127 min
Color

Director: William Wyler
Screenplay: Harry Kurnitz
Cinematography: Charles B. Lang
Editor: Robert W. Swink
Music: Johnny Williams
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Peter O’Toole, Charles Boyer, Eli Wallach, Hugh Griffith, Fernand Gravet

The caper film, a distinct sub-genre of the crime film, follows an almost rigidly codified narrative structure. There’s the identification of the target (the bank, museum, jewelry store, etc.) to be looted of its treasures. There’s the info dump of the security systems in place, which make robbing the facility next to impossible. Enter the criminal mastermind who has a plan for subverting the security, getting the goods, and getting away. Of course, he or she needs a team of competent assistants, each one providing a key skill that is vital to the successful execution of the heist. Then there’s the job itself, usually a tensely mounted sequence full of sweaty suspense. You hold your breath watching these scenes, torn between wanting the crooks to succeed but knowing full well what comes next.

Something goes wrong. It almost always does. The carefully planned and executed scheme somehow goes off of the rails. The crooks are suddenly on the lam, chased by law enforcement and, occasionally, other crooks. Who will ultimately get away? Who will live? Who will die? What final twist does the third act have in store for us? Yes, caper films can be formulaic, but the joy of watching a really good one is being genuinely surprised and held in suspense even when you know (or think you know) how it’s all going to play out. In the hands of a skilled director and screenwriter, the caper film offers enormous amounts of vicarious pleasure.

A million-dollar art museum heist is the chewy center of the chocolate truffle that is HOW TO STEAL A MILLION. It’s an aristocratic romantic comedy/caper film that pairs two of the greats in Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn. The daughter of a Parisian art collector (Hepburn), in truth a forger, unwittingly solicits the aid of a man she believes to be a thief (O’Toole) to steal a famous “Cellini Venus” statue (sculpted by her grandfather) from a museum. But in actuality, the “thief” is a private detective specializing in exposing forgeries.

Director William Wyler orchestrates the whole affair with grace and old-fashioned Hollywood style. O’Toole and Hepburn have a real on-screen chemistry, and the supporting cast is uniformly excellent. HOW TO STEAL A MILLION is a perfect example of the lightweight, breezy romantic comedies that were produced by the dozens in the 1960s. The formula was simple. Take two very appealing leads, mix in some laughs and a liberal dose of intrigue, stir lightly, and you’ve got a sure-fire box office winner and crowd pleaser. MILLION is fast, fun and a pure delight.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog


In the Heat of the Night

1967

110 min
Color

Director: Norman Jewison
Screenplay: Stirling Silliphant
Cinematography: Haskell Wexler
Editor: Hal Ashby
Music: Quincy Jones
Cast: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant

In 1965, author John Ball published his thriller In the Heat of the Night, the first entry in what would become a seven-novel series featuring Detective Virgil Tibbs. However, it was the film version starring screen legend Sidney Poitier as Tibbs that would make the story and the character iconic, with Tibbs’ refusal to accept racial prejudice causing national controversy and making a strong statement in the ongoing fight for civil rights.

The potential for scandal was not unanticipated. In fact, the film’s producer, Walter Mirisch, struggled to convince United Artists to finance the project due to the studio’s fears that the film would not be allowed to screen in the Southern states. Though one might assume (hope) that Mirisch got the picture off the ground by making a grand moral argument about the importance of its progressive message, the sad fact is that Mirisch got his way only after presenting mathematical evidence that the film could make a profit without ever playing in the Southern states.

Considering that Black Americans had not been granted many opportunities to become box office draws or Academy Award winners, it was no surprise that Poitier, the only actor to fit both descriptions, was cast in the lead role of the film. Once he signed on, the character was changed considerably to match the strong persona that Poitier had cultivated in previous films like TO SIR, WITH LOVE and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER. Whereas Tibbs had been soft-spoken and accepting of the occasional prejudicial remark in the novel, Poitier’s version wasn’t going to stand for any of it. Thus, a run-of-the-mill detective story became a civil rights powder keg.

Typically, the opportunity to play the lead in a major Hollywood movie would be a joyous milestone in your career. But considering the subject matter, Poitier was risking a great deal with this role. One area in which he was unwilling to take any risk, however, was with his safety and the safety of the cast and crew. Though producers initially hoped to shoot the film on location in Mississippi, Poitier, having once been menaced and nearly killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan while visiting that state with friend and fellow activist Harry Belafonte, nixed that idea. In the end, Sparta, Illinois stood in for the South.

With such an important message at stake and so many social and political issues going on behind the scenes, Norman Jewison would not have been the first director to come to mind for this significant filmmaking task, as his previous experiences leaned mostly toward comedy. But after making this film into a dazzling combination of social activism and edge-of-your-seat detective story, Jewison saw his career really take off, going on to make such classics as FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and MOONSTRUCK.

As difficult as the film was to make and even distribute around the country, the efforts were well worth it. Not only did the film win multiple Oscars including Best Picture, it landed a major blow against those who would obstruct civil rights with a slap heard literally around the world.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Italian Job

1969

99 min
Color

Director: Peter Collinson
Screenplay: Troy Kennedy Martin
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Editor: John Trumper
Music: Quincy Jones
Cast: Michael Caine, Noel Coward, Benny Hill, Raf Vallone, Tony Beckley

The caper film, a distinct sub-genre of the crime film, follows an almost rigidly codified narrative structure. There’s the identification of the target (the bank, museum, jewelry store, etc.) to be looted of its treasures. There’s the info dump of the security systems in place, which make robbing the facility next to impossible. Enter the criminal mastermind who has a plan for subverting the security, getting the goods, and getting away. Of course, he or she needs a team of competent assistants, each one providing a key skill that is vital to the successful execution of the heist. Then there’s the job itself, usually a tensely mounted sequence full of sweaty suspense. You hold your breath watching these scenes, torn between wanting the crooks to succeed but knowing full well what comes next.

Something goes wrong. It almost always does. The carefully planned and executed scheme somehow goes off of the rails. The crooks are suddenly on the lam, chased by law enforcement and, occasionally, other crooks. Who will ultimately get away? Who will live? Who will die? What final twist does the third act have in store for us? Yes, caper films can be formulaic, but the joy of watching a really good one is being genuinely surprised and held in suspense even when you know (or think you know) how it’s all going to play out. In the hands of a skilled director and screenwriter, the caper film offers enormous amounts of vicarious pleasure.

THE ITALIAN JOB, a British caper film, did reasonably well when it was released in June, 1969. But no one expected the film to become a cult classic, especially in the United Kingdom where the film was named the 27th greatest British film of all time in a 2004 poll by Total Film magazine. The film also inspired a 2003 remake, but it’s the original that audiences have embraced.

Michael Caine stars as Charlie Croker, a Cockney criminal released from prison with the intention of pulling a “big job” in Italy (a caper film trope if there ever was one). He soon meets with the widow (Lelia Goldoni) of his friend and fellow thief Roger Beckermann (Rossano Brazzi), who was killed by the Mafia while driving a Lamborghini Miura in the Italian Alps. Mrs. Beckermann gives Croker her husband’s plans for the robbery that attracted the hostile attention of his killers, which detail a way to steal four million dollars in the city of Turin and escape to Switzerland.

The plan is set in motion with several twists and turns. The action is highlighted by a spectacular set-piece car chase involving several vehicles that race over, under, around and through the streets of Turin. Caine is very good as is the supporting cast. The on location cinematography by Douglas Slocombe is beautiful, and the score, by Quincy Jones, contains several jazzy songs. The screenplay by Troy Kennedy Martin is clever, skillfully mixing humor with danger while following the conventions of the sub-genre.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog


It Happened One Night

1934

106 min
B&W

Director: Frank Capra
Screenplay: Robert Riskin
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Editor: Gene Havlick
Music: Louis Silvers
Cast: Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable, Roscoe Karns, Henry Wadsworth, Walter Connolly

There are a number of ways to describe how great IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT is. You could point out that many people credit the film for essentially inventing an entire genre – the screwball comedy – and doing it better than all the screwball comedies that followed. You could point out that it was the first of only three films to sweep the five major categories at the Academy Awards: Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay (the other two, in case you were wondering, were ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS).

Or, you could simply point to three names on the poster – Frank Capra, Claudette Colbert, and Clark Gable – and consider it enough said. One of the most consistently great filmmakers of the studio era partnered with two of its most charming stars was always going to be a recipe for success, but it’s safe to say the result turned out better than anyone could have anticipated.

In the early 30s, Columbia Pictures, now considered one of the most powerful studios of all time, was merely a “Poverty Row” studio, churning out B-pictures at a rapid pace. But, as fate often has it in Hollywood, there was a director toiling away on those B-pictures who would prove to have grade-A talent: Frank Capra. After being nominated for his 1933 film LADY FOR A DAY (one of many moving and unforgettable Capra comedies), the town began to take notice.

For his next project, Capra and writer Robert Riskin adapted a magazine story named “Night Bus” for the screen, but they were left disappointed when Robert Montgomery refused to star in it. However, as fate would once again have it, the crown jewel of Hollywood, MGM, had a troublemaking star on its roster that the studio was all too happy to lend out: Clark Gable. It was meant to be a punishment for Gable, but after taking one look at the screenplay for IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, he knew the joke would ultimately be on MGM.

Myrna Loy, Miriam Hopkins, Constance Bennett and Margaret Sullavan were among the many actresses who joined Montgomery in turning Capra down, leaving the door open for Claudette Colbert. Though she was wary of working with Capra again after her debut film FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE, directed by Capra, was a disaster, she ultimately agreed to take the part. But, after shooting was completed, Colbert was convinced that it would be another dud.

On the contrary, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT roared into theaters on the basis of stellar reviews and the electrifying chemistry between Colbert and Gable. Colbert, still not quite convinced, was about to catch a train to New York when she learned that she had just been announced as the Best Actress of the year at the Oscar ceremony. Still dressed in her traveling clothes, she raced to the ceremony to accept the award and then raced back to the station, where the train had been kept waiting just for her. It’s a safe bet the passengers didn’t mind.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Jules and Jim

1962

107 min
B&W

Director: Francois Truffaut
Screenplay: Francois Truffaut, Jean Gruault
Cinematography: Raoul Coutard
Editor: Claudine Bouche
Music: Georges Delerue
Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre, Marie Debois, Vanna Urbino, Boris Bassiak

Drawing inspiration from a real-life love triangle that he himself had been part of, French novelist Henri-Pierre Roche published Jules et Jim in 1953. Two years later, future French New Wave champion and voracious reader Francois Truffaut added the novel to his rotation of books that also included works by Balzac, Proust, and many other great French authors. Out of all these, Jules et Jim proved to be the book that Truffaut continue to return to over the years, and the director would later say that he was “discovering, in Henri-Pierre Roche, a writer who achieved poetic prose using a less extensive vocabulary, and making ultra-short sentences from everyday words. Through Roche’s style emotion is born out of the void, the emptiness of all the rejected words, it’s even born out of ellipsis.”

When he first read the novel, Truffaut was still just a film critic with the legendary Cahiers du Cinema film journal and in no position to adapt Roche’s work into a feature film. But, in 1962, with THE 400 BLOWS and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER under his belt, Truffaut was finally ready to film the story that had meant so much to him. Enlisting theater actor Jean Gruault to help him adapt the novel into a screenplay, Truffaut set out to retain the efficiently brief language of the original, pruning elements from the novel in order to convey the spirit of the work despite cutting several characters and scenes.

Of course, with any cinematic love triangle, the casting of the three lovers would prove crucial. Truffaut had two immediate choices in mind for the male leads, opting for Henri Serre because he just so happened to look like Roche and Oskar Werner because of his remarkable work in Max Ophuls’ LOLA MONTES. But the real star of the show is Jeanne Moreau as Catherine, the woman who turns the heads of both title characters.

Truffaut was determined to create an intimate atmosphere for his three actors to work in, often limiting the on-set crew to himself, cinematographer Raoul Coutard, and an assistant. This meant that all of the actors’ dialogue would need to be dubbed into the film during post-production, just one of Truffaut’s many unusual approaches to the making of this film. Another was the film’s striking chronology, the result of nine laborious months in the editing room for Truffaut and Claudine Bouche, the film’s editor. The result: one of the most beloved and evocative films ever made.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Mad Max: Fury Road

2015

120 min
Color

Director: George Miller
Screenplay: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
Cinematography: John Seale
Editor: Margaret Sixel
Music: Junkie XL
Cast: Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, Nicholas Hoult, Zoë Kravitz, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee

Seven years into the ongoing, all-consuming cinematic conflagration sparked by a laser-guided Stark missile aimed straight at the zeitgeist, one George Miller comes bellowing back from wherever it was he was hanging out with talking pigs and penguins to give us the best action movie of the 2010s… and maybe ever? Mad Max: Fury Road is a celebration, a convocation, an earth-shattering trumpet summoning the froth-mouthed war boy spirit of what gigantic, spectacle-driven movies were once, and could be again.

In the grand tradition of one of cinema’s greatest inventions — the road movie — nearly the entire runtime of this movie is on the go. What a marvelous illusion! You’re there, sitting still in a giant dark room with strangers, and yet you’re gripped by the sternum and dragged through space and time like when you take too much adderall and the brakes go out on your bike mid-hill. Further, we fall into the more niche tradition of road movies wherein our heroes carry a terrible cargo — à la Wages of Fear and superb remake Sorcerer — and then even further… we hit the pyramid-top of the form: the out and back. “This is your way home,” Max says, pointing at the carnage behind. “We go back?” Furiosa is us, incredulous at the suggestion and what’s about to happen, but ultimately understanding that home is always behind you.

By the time this movie is released in 2015, we’re about two-and-a-half decades into the reign of CGI that was largely cemented into blockbusters when the wildly successful T1000 oozed onto screens in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Miller, thankfully and to the nearly death-knell chagrin of studio Warner Bros., insisted on as many practical effects as possible… otherwise, he said, what’s the point? Fatefully dragging an admitted Hyperreal favorite, production designer Colin Gibson roasts: “The hair can’t stand up on the back of your neck — not for me, anyway — watching Vin Diesel drag a three-ton safe down through perfect right-angle turns on the street.” Yikes! But, bless.

As always with movies of this scale, at times it was almost an entirely different movie, and at times it almost didn’t happen at all. While there is a whole world of casting what-ifs out there for the curious Googler, here’s our favorite and honest-to-god real possibility: Eminem as Max and Rihanna as Furiosa. Lucky for us, Hardy got Max by spitting in Armie Hammer’s face during his casting scene, and Miller hired Theron on the spot over lunch! Furiosa, too, was almost not the grim feminist icon we know and love, as revealed by Theron: “At first, Furiosa was this very ethereal character, with long hair and some African mud art on her face. It was a different costume designer back then, before Jenny Beavan, and the costume felt a little more Barbarella-y. I worried about it.” Beavan arrived, said hell no, and created the grizzled utilitarian look that gives real weight and lived-in history to the film. Our favorite disastrous location anecdote: during pre-production in Australia, the desert where they were set to film was beset by once-in-a-century rainstorms, transforming the sands into a veritable Garden of Eden. Turns out you can’t shoot a post-apocalyptic banger amidst beautiful flowers, so it was back to storage and back to the drawing board until they could get to Namibia years later.

While there are a million and one things to celebrate about this triumph of a moving image work of art, in the end, what keeps us coming back is the thrilling bravado of it all. For the avid movie watcher 10, 15, 20 years into a journey of watching, there are few moments of true jaw-dropping awe: this movie is one of them. I imagine we got a taste of what audiences in 1941 seeing Citizen Kane for the first time got — cameras can do that?? — or what audiences in 1977 peeping Star Wars felt when they first entered that far away, long ago place. If human beings still have the ability to make something new, something that brings us together in the communal experience of watching in utter disbelief and rapture, maybe things will turn out okay after all.

Long live the movies!

–David McMichael, Hyperreal Film Club


The Maltese Falcon

1941

100 min
B&W

Director: John Huston
Screenplay: John Huston
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Editor: Thomas Richards
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Barton MacLane, Lee Patrick, Sydney Greenstreet, Ward Bond

As most classic movie fans are well aware, the Golden Age of Hollywood was filled to the brim with adaptations. Every literary best-seller and Broadway blockbuster put stars (not to mention dollar signs) in the eyes of studio executives all over Los Angeles, and major motion pictures were being developed from these popular favorites by the hundreds.

I can’t imagine a better candidate for the job of adapting Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 novel The Maltese Falcon than John Huston. Of course, I say that with considerable hindsight: THE MALTESE FALCON was actually his directorial debut. Can you believe that? Pretty impressive for a first-timer, especially since, in the old Hollywood studio system, one single person was rarely given full control over the writing and direction of a motion picture, making Huston’s role as the sole credited director and writer of this film particularly notable.

He certainly got plenty of help from the wonderful cast. Humphrey Bogart plays the type of character that he could play in his sleep, the hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade looking to avenge his recently murdered partner. Enter Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor), this film noir’s femme fatale whose name itself may even be a lie. Spade’s association with Miss Wonderly brings him into the circle of an increasingly sinister cast of characters, including his CASABLANCA cast-mates Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet.

Huston made a reputation for himself as being efficient and thrifty, often bringing his films in under budget. Since THE MALTESE FALCON was his directing debut, Warner Bros. gave him a strict ultimatum of six weeks to shoot and $300,000 to spend, suggesting that he’d be looking for a new job if he went over in either category. To fulfill these requirements, he created a new version of the script that laid out the details of each shot for his crew, allowing them to practically visualize the entire finished film by reading the script.

This approach was so successful that the daily shoots often finished well ahead of schedule, and everyone would go home early. In fact, the production had set aside an entire day to shoot one particularly complex scene involving elaborate camera movements. However, Huston and his crew managed to get it right on the first take, and everyone spent the rest of the day on the golf course.

Huston’s professionalism, combined with his cast’s unique talents, made this a masterpiece for the ages, a film that many to consider to be the “first” film noir. Certainly, if you needed a foundational film on which to build an entire genre, you couldn’t do much better than this one.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Lawrence of Arabia

1962

216 min
Color

Director: David Lean
Screenplay: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson
Cinematography: F.A. Young
Editor: Anne V. Coates
Music: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains

Director David Lean and producer Sam Spiegel enjoyed a massive critical and commercial hit with THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI in 1957, so naturally Spiegel was itching to make another film with Lean at the helm. Spiegel had been intrigued by T.E. Lawrence ever since reading Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom in 1926, so Spiegel suggested that Lean adapt this memoir of Lawrence’s experiences with the Arab Revolt during World War I. The resulting work was LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, one of the most awe-inspiring films ever made.

Once Spiegel had acquired the rights to adapt the book from Lawrence’s brother, he set about casting the all-important title role. As with so many major roles at the time, Marlon Brando was at the top of the most wanted list to play Lawrence. When Spiegel went public with his desire to cast Brando, one very witty British reporter asked, “Will it be a speaking part?” After all, Brando was much more a mumbler than a paragon of British elocution.

When circumstances intervened in the form of Brando’s existing commitments to a remake of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, Spiegel and Lean were forced to look elsewhere for their Lawrence. In retrospect, they were more than happy that they did, as Brando’s reported temper tantrums and bad behavior nearly caused a mutiny on the set.

The producer moved on to a soulful, up-and-coming actor named Anthony Perkins, who tested very well for the role. But Perkins just had one more film to finish before he could begin working on LAWRENCE: Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. When that film became a huge hit and made Perkins the stuff that audiences’ nightmares are made of, Spiegel was once again forced to move on, fearing that the press would retitle the film “Psycho of Arabia.”

With one potential Lawrence after another dropping out of the picture, Spiegel and Lean began scouring already released films for any sign of the spark they needed for Lawrence. That’s how Lean came to discover 27-year-old Peter O’Toole in THE DAY THEY ROBBED THE BANK OF ENGLAND. As Lean recalls, “I saw this chap playing a silly Englishman, with a raincoat, casting for trout. And I said, that’s it, I’m going to test him.” On the day of O’Toole’s screen test, the actor dyed his hair blonde and auditioned in full Lawrence costume. Halfway through the test, Lean shouted, “No use shooting another foot. The boy is Lawrence!”

After acquiring the part, O’Toole worked tirelessly to disappear into the role of Lawrence. He virtually memorized Seven Pillars of Wisdom and interviewed dozens of people who knew Lawrence personally, and he even traveled to Jordan to learn the ways of the Bedouin. Most impressively of all, he managed to do what many of his fellow cast members could not by mastering the art of riding a camel. Whereas Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn were ultimately forced to ride horses instead, O’Toole actually won the admiration of the Bedouins themselves, who said his camel riding equaled their own.

Another critical decision to be made was the location for the film shoot. While Spiegel, ever the thrifty producer, argued for shooting the film in Southern California, Lean was adamant about using the real-life locations in Jordan despite the volatile political climate at the time. This posed a very real problem for Spiegel who, as a Jewish man, would very likely be denied entry into the country. Surprisingly enough, one of the film’s advisors happened to have been England’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs once upon a time, and he quite easily obtained a visa for Spiegel stating that the producer was of the Anglican faith.

These (only just slightly) legal efforts were well worth it. Once Lean and his film crew arrived at the locations in Jordan, they discovered the remains of the Turkish locomotives and railroad tracks that Lawrence had actually destroyed, a magnificent scene that plays a part in one of the most iconic images from the film.

These are the elements that combine to make LAWRENCE one of the most unforgettable cinematic experiences you’ll ever have. By filming a magnificent actor at the peak of his talents on a Super Panavision 70mm in these authentic and breathtaking settings, Lean created a singular epic that will never be outdone.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

1962

124 min
B&W

Director: John Ford
Screenplay: James Warner Bellah, Willis Goldbeck
Cinematography: William H. Clothier
Editor: Otho Lovering
Music: Cyril J. Mockridge
Cast: John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine

Though THE SEARCHERS and STAGECOACH are often cited as John Ford’s finest moments, there is an overwhelming number of other strong contenders to choose from, including THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. The interesting thing about VALANCE is that it seems to contradict the more romantic, sentimental version of the Old West that Ford tended to depict in his films, and that unique aspect truly sets it apart from the others.

Indeed, while many point to later films like THE WILD BUNCH and other “revisionist” Westerns as the trendsetters that flung the genre far from Ford’s groundbreaking vision, it’s clear that VALANCE was already turning the tide in 1962. Perhaps reflecting a newfound wisdom from age and experience, Ford suggests in this considerably darker and less romantic film that not all was well in the West, that violence is perhaps not always the solution to every problem, and that perhaps the John Wayne-esque gunfighter is not always the type of hero we need.

Ford made a couple of very smart decisions in getting this message across. First, he abandoned his beloved Monument Valley, the breathtaking location that provided the backdrop for his more optimistic versions of the frontier. Instead, VALANCE is somewhat more claustrophobic, due in large part to being shot mostly on a soundstage. And to really hammer the point across, Ford elected to shoot in black and white, which flabbergasted both critics and audiences at the time. But as always, the director knew exactly what he was doing.

Above all, the decreased emphasis on gorgeous vistas and eye-popping colors focused our attention on the real main event of the film, the two leads. In one corner, we have John Wayne, representing as always the hardened toughness and gritty heroism of the old West. But in the other corner, we have Jimmy Stewart, and who better to give us a new type of hero, the civilizing influence that might just tame the West and, just maybe, prolong life expectancy. It was going to take someone with considerable screen presence and charismatic power to convince us that John Wayne, the Western legend we’ve all come to adore, was maybe not the right hero. It was going to take someone like Jimmy Stewart, and once again, John Ford knew best.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Mississippi Masala

1991

118 min
Color

Director: Mira Nair
Screenplay: Sooni Taraporevala
Cinematography: Edward Lachman
Editor: Roberto Silvi
Music: L. Subramaniam
Cast: Denzel Washington, Sarita Choudhury, Roshan Seth, Sharmila Tagore, Charles S. Dutton

The following is excerpted from “Mississippi Masala: The Ocean of Comings and Goings,” an article written for The Criterion Collection by Bilal Qureshi.

I often remark that my Punjabi parents immigrated to the American South woefully unaware that they’d brought us to a place with an incurable preexisting condition. Racism doesn’t belong exclusively to the South—the former Confederacy—but it was implemented at industrial scale across the region’s economic, political, and cultural life. Alongside this landscape’s sublime natural beauty—rivers, fields, and bayous—sits the history of America’s unsparing brutality against its Black citizens. On the other side of the world, in South Asia, as well as among its global diasporas, anti-Blackness is embedded in ideas of colorism and caste, in tribal imaginaries and policed lines of “suitable” marriages.

The possibility to live—and to love—across racial borders is the theme of Mira Nair’s extraordinarily prescient and sexy second feature film, Mississippi Masala (1991). Three decades later, it speaks to a new generation as groundbreaking filmic heritage—but also with an almost eerie, prophetic wisdom for how to live beyond the confinements of identity and color. Even by today’s standards, the film is a radical triumph of cinematic representation, centering as it does Black and Brown filmmaking, acting, and storytelling. It is also a genre-defying outlier that would likely be as difficult to get financed and produced today as it was then.

Part comedy, part drama, rooted in memoir and colonial history, the film that Nair imagined was a low-budget independent one with global settings and ambitions. The notion of representation—perhaps more accurately described as a correction of earlier misrepresentations—wasn’t its point or its currency. Race was its very subject. Nair has said she wanted to confront the “hierarchy of color” in America, India, and East Africa with the film—the kinds of limitations that she had experienced firsthand by living, studying (first sociology, then film), and making documentaries in both India and the United States. In a shift that began with her first feature film, Salaam Bombay! (1988), Nair set out to transform those real-world issues into fictionalized worlds, translating her sociological observations into works suffused with beauty, music, and, in the case of Mississippi Masala, humid sensuality.

Bilal Qureshi is an essayist and broadcaster whose criticism and reporting have appeared in Film Quarterly, the Washington Post, and the New York Times and on the BBC and NPR.

Click here to read the full article on The Criterion Collection.


My Cousin Vinny

1992

120 min
Color

Director: Jonathan Lynn
Screenplay: Dale Launer
Cinematography: Peter Deming
Editors: Tony Lombardo, Stephen E. Rifkin
Music: Randy Edelman
Cast: Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei, Mitchell Whitfield, Fred Gwynne, Lane Smith

Screenwriter Dale Launer couldn’t shake the story he heard in 1972 from a friend in law school. It was about a fellow student who passed the bar exam on his 13th try, after failing 12 times. “I joked, ‘What if you’re traveling through the deep south and you’re arrested for a murder you didn’t commit and the only lawyer that can help you is the guy who flunked the bar 12 times and passed on the 13th?’ I just thought it was a funny idea.”

Fast forward decades later, after Launer had built a reputation in Hollywood for solid gold comedy scripts like DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. He came back to this idea and actually immersed himself in research of both the American Deep South and the practice of law. “I flew down to New Orleans, picked up a Ford Probe, drove up to Mississippi, and went east from there into Alabama. I stopped off in Butler, Alabama, knocked on the door to an assistant district attorney, and sat with him for hours.”

Launer used that research to set a scene in Alabama that he could throw two unforgettable characters into: Joe Pesci’s Brooklyn attorney Vinny Gambini and his girlfriend Mona Lisa Vito, played to Academy Award-winning perfection by Marisa Tomei. When he first pitched the studio with a script chock full of hilarious lines for both characters, the studio actually wanted him to eliminate the Mona Lisa character and give all of her good lines to Vinny. But Launer stood his ground, and the result, thanks to Tomei’s performance, is Oscars history.

One fight Launer ultimately lost was in the casting of Vinny, the title character. As originally written in the script, the character was meant to resemble a heavyweight boxer or a menacing mafia thug. Launer pictured the character around 6’4 and 220 pounds. Based on that description, Andrew Dice Clay was an early contender for the part. But the studio wanted to go in a different direction, and other actors considered for the role included Danny DeVito, Peter Falk, Robert De Niro and Jim Belushi.

In retrospect, the choice of Joe Pesci seems so obvious. Though he had initially made a name for himself as a dramatic actor in RAGING BULL and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, he was riding a wave of comedic success thanks to smash hits like HOME ALONE and LETHAL WEAPON 2. Plus, he was just wrapping up GOODFELLAS and his Oscar win for that film would go a long way in selling audiences on seeing VINNY.

Though critics were mixed on the film and the studio focused their marketing efforts for the year on bigger budget prospects like ALIEN 3, VINNY still managed a decent $53 million at the box office thanks to the Oscar buzz surrounding its two leads. But it was on VHS and cable where an even larger audience first discovered the film and rewatched it again and again, making it a beloved instant classic that still has people laughing 30 years later.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


My Man Godfrey

1936

94 min
B&W

Director: Gregory La Cava
Screenplay: Gregory La Cava, Eric Hatch, Morrie Ryskind
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Editors: Ted Kent, Russell Scoengarth
Music: Charles Previn
Cast: William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Jean Dixon, Eugene Pallette, Mischa Auer

Despite being a story about a “forgotten man” during the height of the Great Depression, MY MAN GODFREY became one of the most beloved screwball comedies of all time, which was exactly what Depression-era audiences needed. Even more remarkably, the film’s extraordinary romantic chemistry was provided by William Powell and Carole Lombard…three years after their real-life marriage ended in divorce.

After working in the 1931 films MAN OF THE WORLD and LADIES’ MAN together, Lombard and Powell quickly fell in love. They were married even quicker, despite the many friends and family who suggested they were too incompatible to last (at the time, Powell was 38 and well-established in Hollywood whereas Lombard was 22 and just getting started). Though they divorced two years later (citing the very issues their loved ones had warned them about), they remained close friends for the rest of their lives, and they show genuine affection for each other in tonight’s film.

By surrounding these two former lovebirds with some of the great character actors of the 1930s (Eugene Pallette, Gail Patrick and Mischa Auer, just to name a few), director Gregory La Cava fashioned an all-time-great comedy. Though, today, his name is perhaps not as recognizable as Howard Hawks or Preston Sturges, La Cava proved himself to be a consummate director of screwball comedy. His early career work as an animator surely helped.

His ability to build strong relationships with his actors certainly helped, too. During the first few days of shooting, he and Powell were struggling to figure out how to portray the title character, and La Cava suggested they share a bottle of Scotch and hash it out overnight. When La Cava arrived on set the next day with a massive hangover, he was met with a telegram from Powell that read, “WE MAY HAVE FOUND GODFREY LAST NIGHT BUT WE LOST POWELL. SEE YOU TOMORROW.”

MY MAN GODFREY was a hit with critics and at the box office, and it received six Oscar nominations. Powell followed it up with another smash, LIBELED LADY, while La Cava went on to direct another memorable comedy, STAGE DOOR. As for Lombard, the Best Actress Oscar nomination she received for her performance in GODFREY launched her to the next level of movie stardom.

Ever prone to remakes, Hollywood remade GODFREY in 1957 with June Allyson and David Niven in the lead roles. Let’s just say that we are not likely to see that version at the Paramount any time soon.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Nightmare Alley

1947

110 min
B&W

Director: Edmund Goulding
Screenplay: Jules Furthman
Cinematography: Lee Garmes
Editor: Barbara McLean
Cast: Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Taylor Holmes

The following essay was written by film critic Stephanie Zacharek for Turner Classic Movies. Zacharek is now the chief film critic for Time.

Noir, by its nature, is defined by despair and disillusionment. Yet few Hollywood noirs are as despairing, or as darkly glittering, as Nightmare Alley, the 1947 film adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s novel of the same name, which had been published just a year earlier. Reviewing the novel in The Washington Post upon its republication in 2010, critic Michael Dirda wrote, “‘Nightmare Alley’ portrays 1930s America as a sleazy, run-down carnival, where everyone is either on the make, a born sucker or trapped in a real or psychological cage. Nearly all its major characters are emotionally damaged or physically deformed. Except for one, each is also pitiable — there, but for the grace of God, go you or I.”

The same could be said of the movie, in which Tyrone Power plays Stanton Carlisle, a small-time carnie who charms fake mind reader Zeena (Joan Blondell) into sharing the secret of one of her hugely successful acts-and that’s after he commits a mistake that causes the death of her husband, the drunkard Pete (Ian Keith). After he’s learned Zeena’s secret formula, Stanton ditches her for the younger and more nubile Molly (Colleen Gray); the two polish up the mind-reading act and take it on the road, bringing it to a posh night spot in Chicago. But Stanton isn’t content with the act’s success. He teams with a scheming psychoanalyst, Dr. Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker), to figure out a way to bilk the city’s richest society figures, launching a spiral of corrosive evil that can only double back on him.

Nightmare Alley wasn’t a hit upon its release. Audiences may have blanched, given the rather sordid subject matter, and if the stuffy review that ran in the New York Times is any indication, critics may not have fully understood the film, either. The paper’s anonymous reviewer dismissed the picture, writing, “If one can take any moral value out of ‘Nightmare Alley’ it would seem to be that a terrible retribution is the inevitable consequence for he who would mockingly attempt to play God. Otherwise, the experience would not be very rewarding for, despite some fine and intense acting by Mr. Power and others, this film traverses distasteful dramatic ground and only rarely does it achieve any substance as entertainment.”

But in the years since, Nightmare Alley has come to be considered one of the gems of film noir, and for good reason. The picture was directed by Edmund Goulding, a Hollywood veteran whose talents seemed to lean more toward melodrama (Of Human Bondage, Dark Victory). But he keeps Nightmare Alley taut and tensile-the picture never flags or droops; its foreboding undercurrent is beautifully sustained, from the moment very early in the story when Power’s Stanton expresses his curiosity about a sideshow geek, a man who tears the heads off chickens with his teeth in exchange for a daily ration of booze. It’s a horrific job, and Goulding never shows us the man directly, though we hear him screaming, unhinged and undone. “How does a guy become a geek?” Stanton asks one of his carny pals, but it’s as if he already knows the answer in his heart. He can’t afford to look too deep, lest he get a shuddering glimpse of his own future.

Power is superb and unsettling here-his manicured, elegant, leading-man good looks counterbalance his character’s ruthlessness and, later, his hollow-eyed despair. The movie was deeply important to him. He had bought the rights to Gresham’s novel, and then had to persuade a reluctant Darryl Zanuck and 20th Century Fox to go ahead with the film. The picture wasn’t made on the cheap, as so many noirs were: Shot by the great and extraordinarily versatile cinematographer Lee Garmes — the man responsible for the lurid Technicolor majesty of Duel in the Sun, the soft fairytale hues of Zoo in Budapest, and the lush exoticism of Morocco — Nightmare Alley has a suitably sinister, gritty shimmer. It conjures elements of Henri Cartier-Bresson, and points toward the work Diane Arbus would do some 10 years later.

Gresham, by all accounts, knew this dread firsthand. He struggled with alcoholism himself, turning to Freudian psychoanalysis for help but finding no relief. For a time, he sought solace in Christianity, studying the work of C.S. Lewis. (His wife, the poet Joy Davidman, ultimately left him for Lewis.) He dabbled in Zen Buddhism, Alcoholics Anonymous and Scientology. But his personal problems, coupled with the fact that he never wrote another book as successful as Nightmare Alley, clearly became too much to bear. He committed suicide in 1962.

Almost miraculously, especially considering Zanuck’s skittishness, the screenplay for Nightmare Alley—by veteran writer Jules Furthman (The Big Sleep, To Have and To Have Not, Mutiny on the Bounty)—doesn’t make the story’s foreboding twists and turns easy for the audience. The movie is resolute in the bleakness of its vision. And for that reason, it stands as a bold example of a mainstream work that doesn’t talk down to its audience, that trusts viewers to follow it down some very dark pathways. Nightmare Alley is a work of desolate beauty, a vision conjured from the troubled side of sleep.

–Stephanie Zacharek
TCM.com


North by Northwest

1959

136 min
Color

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Ernest Lehman
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editor: George Tomasini
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Martin Landau

By 1957, Alfred Hitchcock had already established himself as one of the greatest directors of all time, thanks to classics like REBECCA, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, REAR WINDOW, and TO CATCH A THIEF, and he had earned a devoted following among many film lovers. Counted among that group was legendary screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who in 1957 declared to Hitchcock, “I want to do a Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures!” Lehman then proceeded to make good on that claim by writing NORTH BY NORTHWEST, arguably the ultimate Hitchcock film.

From frame jobs to chase scenes, plot twists to imaginative location shots, all those stylistic traits that typically define a Hitchcock film are here. Even the infamous MacGuffin (Hitchcock’s pet name for the device that keeps the plot and the characters moving) is, as Hitchcock himself put it, “boiled down to its purest expression: nothing at all!” The “top-secret” intel that James Mason seeks? We never learn a single thing about it.

For several weeks in late 1957, Hitchcock would go straight from the set of VERTIGO to meetings with Lehman, where they would work closely to make the script as taut and thrilling as possible. When the time came for casting, both the writer and director knew that Cary Grant was the right man for the part, despite the fact that Jimmy Stewart was lobbying heavily for it. Luckily for Hitchcock, who considered Stewart one of his dearest collaborators, Jimmy was ultimately distracted by the filming of BELL, BOOK, AND CANDLE, leaving the role wide open for Grant.

The film would take Grant to some rather interesting locations, or, at least, the studio-produced versions of them. While Hitchcock was able to use a hidden camera to capture Grant entering the actual United Nations building, strict rules prevented the director from filming the interiors, forcing the studio to build a replica set that recreated the UN with near-perfect accuracy. Legend has it that Hitchcock himself had masqueraded as a tourist in the UN to take photographs for the set designers, a real-life parallel to his many in-film cameos.

From the confined spaces of the UN to the wide-open vistas of a now-iconic cornfield (not to mention the towering presidential nostrils on Mount Rushmore), NORTH BY NORTHWEST is an endlessly pleasing travelogue done Hitchcock-style. But before its release, the studio was worried that the journey, at 136 minutes, was too long. Thankfully, Hitchcock had developed enough clout by that time, and the film was released intact to great acclaim and box office success.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

2019

161 min
Color

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
Editor: Fred Raskin
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino

Though each of Quentin Tarantino’s films seem wholly unique to his specific experience and appreciation of the movies, you could easily argue that ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is the film he was born to make.

This is a loving and deliriously entertaining snapshot of the town and time that Tarantino grew up in – late 1960s Los Angeles. It was a time when television had not yet attained the artistic prestige that the cinema had, but it clearly had captured the eyes and ears of the people, to the great detriment of ticket sales at the box office. As a result of its instant popularity, television was able to provide steady paychecks for a multitude of working actors. But those with greater ambitions still yearned to turn their TV success into silver screen stardom, especially before their short window of TV fame slammed shut.

We find Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, dealing with this very dilemma and relying on his longtime stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt, for solace. This relationship was the genesis of the film. When Tarantino was making DEATH PROOF, he saw Kurt Russell in the midst of an animated conversation with his own longtime stunt double. It made him think of other leading men, like Steve McQueen and Burt Reynolds, who were known to have similar friendships with their own stunt doubles, and he realized it would be a great foundation for a love letter to Hollywood.

After he finished the script, he most wanted to get feedback from Russell, Reynolds, Bruce Dern and others who lived and worked in Hollywood during this time. Not only did he get feedback, he got a request from each of them to participate in the film. You’ll see Russell, and you would have seen Reynolds as George Spahn, legendary owner of the Spahn Movie Ranch, had he not passed away just before production began. Luckily, Dern was more than happy to step in.

While DiCaprio and Pitt play these fictional characters who serve as avatars for many working in Hollywood at the time, Margot Robbie takes on the challenge of playing real-life tragic figure Sharon Tate. A model and promising actress, Tate was building a career for herself in Hollywood and also was one-half of a cinematic power couple with Roman Polanski. She was nearly nine months pregnant when, on August 8, 1969, she and four other guests in her home became the latest victims of the Manson Family’s senseless killing spree. Tarantino has said that his motivation for including her in this film is the sense that she has been defined by her murder, and he wanted to celebrate her life.

All of these historic and history-adjacent threads combine for a stunning epic that only Tarantino could create.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Paper Moon

1973

102 min
B&W

Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Screenplay: Alvin Sargent
Cinematography: Laszlo Kovacs
Editor: Verna Fields
Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal, Madeline Kahn

The late Peter Bogdanovich, who passed away this past January, had one of the most extraordinary three-movie runs in film history thanks to 1971’s THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, 1972’s WHAT’S UP, DOC?, and tonight’s film, 1973’s PAPER MOON.

After diverging into modern-day screwball with DOC, Bogdanovich lent PAPER MOON so much of what made PICTURE SHOW an out-of-the-blue masterpiece, from the evocative black-and-white cinematography that defined the Hollywood classics that inspired him to the expertly curated soundtrack featuring Depression-era gems from Ozzie Nelson, Hoagy Carmichael and more.

Beyond Bogdanovich’s contributions, the film is most remembered for its pairing of real-life father and daughter Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal, who proved such an equal to her dad (if not outright stealing most of the movie out from under him) that she became the youngest actor to win a competitive Oscar. And playing the role of “Mel Brooks regular taking a more dramatic turn in a Bogdanovich movie” (as Cloris Leachman did unforgettably in PICTURE SHOW) is Madeline Kahn, who might have stolen the movie herself if not for the younger O’Neal.

Considering how much these actors made the roles their own, it’s remarkable to think that the film was initially going to star Paul Newman and his daughter Nell Potts, to be directed by the venerable John Huston. That no doubt would have been an interesting film in its own right, but Hollywood fate seems to have ultimately chosen the right people for the job.

And while we’re on the subject of imagining what might have been, picture this: PAPER MOON was Bogdanovich’s Plan B when a Western he was trying to make at Warner Brothers fell through. That Western was going to be based on a script by Larry McMurtry – a script that ultimately became LONESOME DOVE. And Bogdanovich had Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne and Henry Fonda lined up to star in it. Luckily for us, we ultimately got to see that story thanks to an unforgettable TV event starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. But wow, what a picture that would have been.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Philadelphia Story

1940

112 min
B&W

Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Donald Ogden Stewart
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Editor: Frank Sullivan
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, John Howard, Roland Young

When Katharine Hepburn passed away in 2003, the world lost the most respected dramatic actress of sound films and a twentieth-century icon of female independence. Over the course of six decades, the commanding Hepburn won four Best Actress Academy Awards for MORNING GLORY, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, THE LION IN WINTER, and ON GOLDEN POND.

She was nominated for eight other films: ALICE ADAMS, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, WOMAN OF THE YEAR, THE AFRICAN QUEEN, SUMMERTIME, THE RAINMAKER, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, and LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. WOMAN OF THE YEAR was the first of several films pairing her with Spencer Tracy, with whom she would have a decades-long relationship that ended with his death in 1967.

Hepburn was equally at home in comedies and dramas. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is a classic screwball comedy that began life as a Broadway smash in 1939. Playwright Philip Barry wrote the material for Katharine Hepburn, and she bought the movie rights, recognizing that the material offered the perfect vehicle for her return to Hollywood after a two-year hiatus. As rich socialite Tracy Lord, Hepburn got to play her own public image in an effort to show that underneath her haughty, classy exterior (which was why she had been designated box-office poison by theater owners), she was vulnerable and lovable.

Tracy’s problem is that she doesn’t forgive anyone their faults: she kicked out her husband (Grant) because he had a drinking problem and she rejected her father (Halliday) because of his philandering. She’s about to marry the “perfect” man (Howard, as a social climber), when Grant turns up, along with a Spy magazine reporter (Stewart) and photographer (Hussey).

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is a scintillating comedy in which the wonderful cast and their performances heighten the material. Director George Cukor brings a marvelous rhythm to the comic dialogue, which is full of snappy comebacks and sly expressions. The film received six Academy Award nominations including: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Stewart, winner), Best Actress (Hepburn), Best Supporting Actress (Hussey) and Best Screenplay (winner).

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY was remade as the musical HIGH SOCIETY in 1956 with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly, and it ranks number fifty-one on the American Film Institute’s list of top 100 films of the twentieth century and number fifteen on the AFI list of 100 funniest American movies of all time.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog


Pillow Talk

1959

102 min
Color

Director: Michael Gordon
Screenplay: Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin
Cinematography: Arthur E. Arling
Editor: Milton Carruth
Music: Frank De Vol
Cast: Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall, Thelma Ritter

PILLOW TALK (1959) 102m. Directors: Michael Gordon. Screenplay: Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin. Music: Frank De Vol. Cinematography: Arthur E. Arling. Editor: Milton Carruth. Cast: Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall, Thelma Ritter.

PILLOW TALK debuted the iconic partnership of Rock Hudson and Doris Day, two movie stars who enjoyed some of the greatest successes of their respective careers by sharing the screen together.

That’s probably due to the fact that, behind the scenes, the two immediately bonded, and their chemistry showed onscreen. In fact, in his memoir, Hudson recalled, “The trouble we had was trying not to laugh. Doris and I couldn’t look at each other. You know, that sweet agony of laughing when you’re not supposed to? That’s what we had.”

When asked how this translated to success as a romantic comedy team, Hudson suggested, “First of all, the two people have to truly like each other, as Doris and I did, for that shines through. Then, too, both parties have to be strong personalities – very important to comedy – so that there’s a tug-of-war over who’s going to put it over on the other, who’s going to get the last word, a fencing match between two adroit opponents who in the end are going to fall into bed together.”

The only concern for all involved in the film was whether its content would be too “racy” for 1959 audiences, given that the Production Code still very much held sway over the accepted standards for American films. But it seemed that Hudson and Day, with their clean-cut and wholesome onscreen presences, made everything okay, and audiences welcomed the film with open arms. It was a $7.5 million success at the box office.

It was also a hit with critics, marking an important next step in Hudson’s career from matinee idol to a recognized comedic talent with enough substance to hold his own onscreen. Day, meanwhile, was recognized with an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, and the film won the statue for Best Original Screenplay.

Naturally, Hudson and Day were more than delighted to make not one but two more films together, LOVER COME BACK and SEND ME NO FLOWERS, and they were joined in both by uproarious third wheel Tony Randall.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Plan 9 from Outer Space

1957

79 min
B&W

Director: Edward D. Wood Jr.
Screenplay: Edward D. Wood Jr.
Cinematography: William C. Thompson
Editor: Edward D. Wood Jr.
Cast: Gregory Walcott, Mona McKinnon, Duke Moore, Tor Johnson, Maila Nurmi, Bela Lugosi, Criswell

Edward D. Wood Jr. (known popularly as Ed Wood) has frequently been labeled “the worst filmmaker of all time.” But perhaps that label is unfair.

Sure, he seemed to lack basic comprehension around framing, lighting, editing, dialogue, plotting and virtually every other aspect of filmmaking. But there is more to getting movies made than that. There is a driving, tireless passion for the craft, and the entrepreneurial spirit required to raise money and get those who can provide that money to buy into your vision.

In that regard, Wood merits some praise, since he was capable of talking people into backing what were clearly some very terrible ideas. Take the genesis of tonight’s film Plan 9 from Outer Space, which, again, is frequently hailed as the worst movie ever made. Wood managed to get this bizarre sci-fi/zombie mash-up funded by…*checks notes*…the Baptist Church of Beverly Hills.

One of the church’s leaders, J. Edward Reynolds, happened to also be Wood’s landlord, and unsurprisingly (if you know anything about Wood), he was way behind on his rent. But when Wood discovered that Reynolds dreamed of being a film producer – specifically, producing a biopic about popular evangelical Billy Sunday – he somehow managed to convince Reynolds to first finance Plan 9 and then use the “massive box office returns” that Plan 9 would surely reap to finance the biopic.

I guess Reynolds didn’t take a close enough look at the script, because when Wood announced that the title of the film would be “Grave Robbers from Outer Space,” Reynolds (and his church) immediately objected to such sacrilege. Wood agreed to change the title to Plan 9, yet he kept the grave robbing plot intact (again, was the Baptist Church of Beverly Hills paying any attention to this production??).

One of the draws for Reynolds in backing the film was Wood’s guarantee that Dracula legend Bela Lugosi would star in the film – a miraculous promise considering that Lugosi died earlier that year. But just before Lugosi’s death, Wood managed to capture some test footage for a totally different film he planned to make with the fading star. Never one to let good footage go to waste, Wood simply used it in this film, despite clearly having no relevance or bearing on Plan 9’s plot.

With Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson and TV horror host Vampira rounding it out, Plan’s 9 motley crew again reflects Wood’s unique ability to convince an eclectic group of people to join him on his wild cinematic journeys – even though they have no idea where it will take them or how it will end. If they were hoping to somehow etch themselves into movie history – and they weren’t too picky on how – well, mission accomplished.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Princess Bride

1987

98 min
Color

Director: Rob Reiner
Screenplay: William Goldman
Cinematography: Adrian Biddle
Editor: Robert Leighton
Music: Mark Knopfler
Cast: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Fred Savage, Peter Falk, Carol Kane, Billy Crystal

Rob Reiner got a great many gifts from his father, Carl Reiner, including a sharp sense of humor and the ability to direct or act in what would become legendary comedies. But one of the very best gifts Reiner ever received from his dad was the 1973 William Goldman novel, The Princess Bride, a gift that would set one of the most beloved films of all time into motion.

The younger Reiner fell in love with the book and reread it often over the years. After starring in one of the most-watched TV shows of all time, “All in the Family,” and stunning Hollywood with the massive success of his directorial debut, THIS IS SPINAL TAP, Reiner knew that he wanted to use his newfound clout to adapt THE PRINCESS BRIDE as a feature film.

Just one small problem: he wasn’t the first person to have that idea. As it turns out, many other studios and filmmakers had tried and failed to bring Goldman’s work to the big screen. Richard Lester (A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, SUPERMAN II) was the first to attempt it in the mid-70s, and Francois Truffaut, Robert Redford and Norman Jewison all met with the same dead end.

That’s a long list of major names who couldn’t get this project off the ground, and yet, after a successful meeting in which he clicked with Goldman on their vision for a film, Reiner moved forward on his version with confidence. Though Superman himself, Christopher Reeve, had once been considered for the heroic role of Westley, Reiner would only accept Cary Elwes for the part after seeing him play the romantic lead in a British period piece called LADY JANE. As fate would have it, Elwes had also been a fan of the novel since childhood.

The rest of the cast is a veritable who’s-who of character actors, comedy legends and pop culture icons. You’ve got the man the 80s loved to hate, Chris Sarandon, as the wretched Prince Humperdinck, the always amazing Robin Wright in the title role, and wrestling mega star Andre the Giant as, well, a giant wrestler. If it’s laughs you’re after, look no further than Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Wallace Shawn, SPINAL TAP’s Christopher Guest, and the list goes on and on.

Believe it or not, the film was only moderately successful at the box office, earning $30 million on its $15 million budget. But, in the ensuing years, the world has embraced THE PRINCESS BRIDE as one of the cinema’s great fairy tales, overflowing with memorable quotes, dashing heroism, and delightful romance. After seeing how the film is bookended, it’s especially moving to consider that it all started with a gift from a father to his son.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Raiders of the Lost Ark

1981

115 min
Color

Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Editor: Michael Kahn
Music: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott, Alfred Molina

No one was enjoying more success in Hollywood than Steven Spielberg and George Lucas when they met in the summer of 1977 to discuss the idea that would become RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Two years earlier, Spielberg had guided the aquatic thriller JAWS to the title of highest-grossing film of all time, a record that was about to crumble in May 1977 when Lucas’s own STAR WARS began outperforming even the wildest expectations.

So, when the two reigning box-office champions joined each other in Hawaii to toast/escape from the staggering global success of STAR WARS, it seemed only natural that another major idea would come up in conversation. Lucas mentioned that, back in 1973, he had written an idea for a movie called “The Adventures of Indiana Smith,” a tribute to the rousing adventure serials of the 30’s and 40’s. After Spielberg said he loved everything about it but the last name, Lucas came back with a new name and a fleshed-out story so chock-full of grand ideas that some of them had to be shelved and eventually used in the sequel.

Though they had settled on the name of Indiana Jones, Lucas and Spielberg were initially at odds about what type of man this Dr. Jones would be. Lucas had in mind a world-traveling, womanizing playboy akin to James Bond, while Spielberg saw him as more of a Bogart-type with a bit of a drinking problem. Ultimately, neither idea won out as it was decided that simply being an archaeologist who cracks bullwhips and catches rides underneath Nazi semi-trucks was entertainment enough.

With the story and the hero all set, the time came to find someone to pay for all of this. When you watch the finished product, it doesn’t take long to notice just how much money went into its making. Even with their considerable pedigree, Lucas and Spielberg did not have an easy time convincing executives to foot this large of a bill. However, demonstrating just how savvy they were, Lucas and Spielberg made sure they were prepared by storyboarding every last frame and keeping the production on a very tight shooting schedule.

Once that shooting schedule began, the Indiana Jones set became a wild and crazy place, featuring everything from Nazi submarines (borrowed from the set of DAS BOOT) to dozens of poisonous snakes, which were actually just a bunch of giant legless lizards. Well, mostly: there’s no mistaking that the snake staring Indy down in the Well of Souls is an honest-to-goodness cobra. In the original releases of the film, before it was digitally remastered and enhanced in the 2000s, if you looked hard enough you could see reflections in the glass pane protecting Harrison Ford from the venomous viper.

Speaking of Ford, the super-stardom he received as a result of this movie was certainly well-deserved – he was quite the trooper during the production. In the course of making this film, an airplane ran over Ford’s knee (!), his ribs were bruised while being dragged behind a moving truck, and he was sickened with food poisoning in Tunisia along with most of the crew. It was this very sickness that gave us one of the most memorable scenes in the movie: when Indy decides to shoot one of the baddies rather than use his whip, it’s not because Ford wasn’t proficient enough with the weapon. It’s because he was so weak he could barely stand.

Among the other burdens Ford had to deal with was that iconic fedora; like all good adventure heroes, Indy needed to do all his stunts without losing his hat. Found on Saville Row by costume designer Deborah Nadoolman and aged by Ford himself, the hat not only added personality to the character but also allowed the stunt doubles to step in without being noticed. In fact, that’s lead stuntman Terry Leonard being dragged underneath the moving truck, a visual tribute to the stunts performed by Yakima Canutt in John Ford’s STAGECOACH. Fun fact: the truck driver who gets punched in the face by Ford? Also Terry Leonard.

With stunts like these, mind-boggling practical effects, another legendary score from John Williams, and the guiding hands of Lucas and Spielberg, it’s no surprise that RAIDERS was the highest-grossing film of 1981 and remains one of the top twenty highest-grossing films of all time (adjusted for inflation). More importantly, it’s a timeless adventure yarn that continues to remind us how immediate and thrilling a movie can be when the boulders are real, not computer-animated.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Raising Arizona

1987

94 min
Color

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cinematography: Barry Sonnenfeld
Editor: Michael R. Miller
Music: Carter Burwell
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Frances McDormand, Randall “Tex” Cobb, M. Emmet Walsh

RAISING ARIZONA (1987) 94m. Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen. Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen. Music: Carter Burwell. Cinematography: Barry Sonnenfeld. Editor: Michael R. Miller. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Frances McDormand, Randall “Tex” Cobb, M. Emmet Walsh.

The Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel, can do it all. Writers, directors, producers (and in some cases, editors), the two have worked together as a team since making a splash with their audacious, neo-noir (and shot in Austin) debut film BLOOD SIMPLE (1984).

But rather than becoming pigeon-holed as genre/crime filmmakers, the brothers took off on their own career course, a journey that would produce one of the most unique bodies of work in the contemporary American cinema. No one makes movies quite like the Coens. Their unique, quirky, individual style, which often walks a fine line between comedy and tragedy, has served them well for decades and will most likely continue to do so for many years to come.

The Coens followed up the success of BLOOD SIMPLE with the live-action cartoon buffoonery of RAISING ARIZONA, starring Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter. Filmed in the style of a live-action “Looney Tunes” cartoon, RAISING ARIZONA was not a hit upon first release. Critic Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune wrote that “the film starts to look like an episode of HEE HAW directed by an amphetamine-crazed Orson Welles.”

But thanks to home video, the film soon found an appreciative audience and has gone on to achieve cult status. The film is chock-a-block full of symbolism, visual gags, unconventional characters, flamboyant “look at me!” camera work, Biblical references, pathos and idiosyncratic dialogue, and the Coens credit the films of director Preston Sturges and writers such as William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor as inspirations for RAISING ARIZONA.

Working with a budget of just over five million dollars, the film was shot in ten weeks and utilized several crew members who had worked on BLOOD SIMPLE including cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, co-producer Mark Silverman, production designer Jane Musky, associate producer and assistant director Deborah Reinish and film composer Carter Burwell. It is also one helluva funny movie, ranking 31st on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Years…100 Laughs.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog


Rear Window

1954

112 min
Color

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editor: George Tomasini
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr

***If you are seeing these films for the first time and want to remain in the dark about the plots, don’t read these notes until the films are over!***

REAR WINDOW, one of Hitchcock’s greatest masterpieces, was based on a bit of pulp fiction, a story titled “It Had to Be Murder” that first appeared in Dime Detective Magazine in 1942. From this generic dime-store whodunit, Hitchcock crafted something more than a remarkable film. He gave us a lasting tribute to the joy of watching movies and an expert visual tutorial on what makes thrillers, particularly Hitchcock’s, work so well on screen.

Though the rights to the story had circulated among a few different people in the late 40s and early 50s, they eventually landed in Hitchcock’s lap, as so many great stories often did. Once he had the rights, Hitchcock set to work with screenwriter John Michael Hayes on turning that story into something that would work on screen. With this in mind, the pair decided to do away with some of the characters in the book and focus mainly on the lead character, a man confined to his apartment with an injury who takes to spying on neighbors in the adjacent apartment’s windows, and his girlfriend.

By emphasizing the love story, Hitchcock adds a crucial human element to this heart-stopping suspense story. Of course, that human element also requires two top-notch actors to carry those characters off. Enter James Stewart and Grace Kelly, two of Hitchcock’s go-to actors who each give one of their finest performances in this movie. In fact, Kelly so enjoyed working with Hitchcock that she turned down the female lead in ON THE WATERFRONT to work on this film.

Hitchcock had always worked very closely with his screenwriters on plotting, visual cues, etc., but the director had arguably never been as involved in pre-production work as he was on REAR WINDOW. He had frequent, detailed meetings with Hayes to outline the entire story scene-by-scene as well as providing other crucial notes. At the end of the day, Hayes was basically left with not much more to do than write the actual dialogue, and, even then, Hitchcock would insist that each line of dialogue convey a certain “meaning.” Ultimately, this relationship seemed to work for both men, and they would go on to do three more films together.

Unsurprisingly, a great deal of the content in the film, particularly some of the more scandalous activities happening in the neighbors’ rooms, didn’t go over well with Joseph Breen, head administrator of the Production Code. Breen made it his personal mission to ensure that many of these scenes were removed, including crucial moments between Stewart and Kelly that reveal to the audience the intimate extent of their relationship. Luckily for all of us, Breen would ultimately retire before the film went into production, and his replacement was willing to, shall we say, look the other way.

Though the film was a huge success at the time of its release, REAR WINDOW, along with certain other Hitchcock masterpieces, did not enjoy the consistent re-releases that so many classic films typically had in those days. Due to a number of contractual issues, the film was kept from theatres for many years. During that time, the 35mm prints of the film fell into disrepair, adding another obstacle blocking the movie’s return to theatres. Thankfully, film restorers Robert Harris and James Katz took on the critical task of restoring the film in the early eighties, allowing it to reach a whole new generation of film lovers nearly 30 years after its initial premiere.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Reservoir Dogs

1992

99 min
Color

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Cinematography: Andrzej Sekula
Editor: Sally Menke
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Eddie Bunker, Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino’s stunning directorial debut, RESERVOIR DOGS, introduced the world to what would become his cinematic signatures, from endlessly quotable dialogue to a penchant for using popular songs in the cleverest of ways.

Here, the director began to show off his many unique talents, particularly for creating unforgettable characters and engaging them in remarkably entertaining wordplay, telling his stories out of order in a way that only boosts the intrigue and tension, and doing the things you’d least expect, like not even showing the robbery in what is ostensibly a “heist film.”

But what would you expect from a self-taught fan of world cinema and American exploitation films. No one has put their experience as a video store clerk to greater use, as Tarantino seems to have absorbed every word and image from every film he watched on the job. In particular, Tarantino has cited Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING and lesser-seen heist film KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL as inspirations for RESERVOIR DOGS, and fans of THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE will know where DOGS’s code names (Mr. White, Mr. Blonde, etc.) come from.

By the time RESERVOIR DOGS was set to go into production, Tarantino had already made a name for himself as a screenwriter, having provided the script for Tony Scott’s TRUE ROMANCE. That very experience, of selling his script to another director and giving up his creative authority, is what led Tarantino to hold onto the DOGS script for his own debut as a director. The original intention was simply to shoot the film on the cheap with Tarantino and his friends playing the roles, but, once Harvey Keitel got his hands on the script, the movie became an event with a legitimate cast.

RESERVOIR DOGS premiered at Sundance in 1992 and was a massive success, going on to play Cannes and Toronto, but it didn’t really take off with mainstream audiences until word of mouth made it a home video hit. Suddenly, the independent film scene became crowded with wannabes and copycats, trying their own hand at gruesomely violent crime films with snappy dialogue. But it wasn’t until two years later, when Tarantino’s own PULP FICTION hit theaters, that anything even came close.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Rififi

1955

122 min
B&W

Director: Jules Dassin
Screenplay: Jules Dassin, Ren Wheeler, Auguste Le Breton
Cinematography: Philippe Agostini
Editor: Roger Dwyre
Music: Georges Auric
Cast: Jean Servais, Carl Mohner, Robert Manuel, Perlo Vita (aka Jules Dassin), Marie Sabouret

If you’re a fan of heist films, you’ve come to the right theatre. In fact, you’re about to see the film that inspired all the other cinematic heists that probably made you a fan of the genre in the first place. When RIFIFI arrived in 1955, it gave audiences something they had never seen before, including a thirty-minute-long robbery with virtually no dialogue or music. Without it, there could be no OCEAN’S ELEVEN/THE STING/insert your favorite heist movie here.

The director, Jules Dassin, was born in Connecticut and, after some time in the theatre and on the radio, moved to Hollywood to try his hand at making movies. Eventually, he found his way to Universal Studios, where he made two of the most thrilling noir films of all time: BRUTE FORCE and THE NAKED CITY. But his success couldn’t save him from that most dreaded of 1950s fates: the blacklist.

Dassin had been a member of the Communist Party, and, when he refused to name the names of fellow members in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, he was barred from working in Hollywood indefinitely. He moved to Europe in an effort to continue his career, but even producers overseas ultimately fired him from projects, worried that they would lose favor with the Hollywood money machine. RIFIFI was the first film Dassin managed to finish after finding himself on the blacklist.

And what a film it is. Dassin’s experience provided him with a superior understanding of what makes movies work, and it paid off here. RIFIFI’s source novel contained just a brief jewelry heist sequence, but Dassin expanded it to its legendary half-hour length. And when he was given a meager budget, he cast his movie not with global stars but with the haggard, untrustworthy faces of character actors who made the movie feel authentic. Dassin himself even stepped in to play a role when the original actor dropped out.

For his efforts, Dassin won the Best Director prize at Cannes, and RIFIFI became a massive hit around the world. After agreeing to take a decent percentage of the box office profits in exchange for working on a reduced salary, Dassin filled his pockets as well, ensuring that he could continue an extraordinary filmmaking career that would eventually include another classic heist film, TOPKAPI.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Rocky Horror Picture Show

1975

100 min
Color

Director: Jim Sharman
Screenplay: Richard O’Brien, Jim Sharman
Cinematography: Peter Suschitzky
Editor: Graeme Clifford
Music: Richard O’Brien
Cast: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Meat Loaf

The following is excerpted from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The film that’s saved lives” written for BBC by Larushka Ivan-Zadeh.

It’s the ultimate cult movie. The first. The biggest. The one cult movie to rule them all.

For more than 40 years, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has defined what we mean by a ‘cult’ movie, though few can ever hope to match its phenomenal level of ritualised worship. A box office flop so ker-splatty it was pulled from the few screens showing it back in 1975, only to be lovingly resurrected by a devout fanbase. It has since grossed over $170 million worldwide and holds the record for the longest continually running movie release of all time.

A camp twist on sci-fi B-movies, The Rocky Horror Picture Show first sprang to life in 1973 as a musical play in the tiny capacity studio above London’s Royal Court Theatre. Tis there, so mythology has it, that David Bowie’s first wife, Angie, gave the first audience participation ‘call-back’ when she yelled “No, don’t do it!” as creator Richard O’Brien’s Riff-Raff threatened to zap Tim Curry’s Dr Frank-N-Furter with a laser gun.

An instant hit, the play transferred first to the West End and then to Los Angeles. A movie spin-off was a no-brainer. That critics hated it is not, it seems, entirely true. As the US film critic Roger Ebert astutely pointed out in his original, 2 ½ star rated 1976 review: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show would be more fun, I suspect, if it weren’t a picture show. It belongs on a stage, with the performers and audience joining in a collective send-up.”

And so it came to pass. Midnight showings of the movie began at the Waverly Theatre in New York City on 1 April, 1976. In a time and place where gay rights was just finding a voice in the wake of the Stonewall riots, the Waverly attracted a congregation. An audience hungry to celebrate a story of sexual awakening where gender fluidity and pan-sexualism are joyfully celebrated; where a straight, white, conventionally attractive young couple called Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon), both virgins until their wedding night, are considered the freaks; and where a ‘sweet transvestite from Transylvania’ (a thrillingly charismatic Tim Curry) dressed in stack heels, suspenders, full make-up and little else, waltzes off with the movie.

–Larushka Ivan-Zadeh

Click here to read the full article on BBC.


Selena

1997

128 min
Color

Director: Gregory Nava
Screenplay: Gregory Nava
Cinematography: Edward Lachman
Editor: Nancy Richardson
Music: Dave Grusin
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Edward James Olmos, Jon Seda, Constance Marie, Lupe Ontiveros

The meteoric rise of the “Queen of Tejano music,” Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, was likely already being considered around Hollywood as the perfect silver screen biopic even before her life was tragically cut short at the age of 23. But when Selena was murdered at the hands of former family friend and employee Yolanda Saldívar in March 1995, Warner Bros. moved quickly to create an unforgettable film that would both commemorate Selena’s remarkable talent and mourn her tragic end.

Of course, the biggest question was: who should play Selena? After all, who could capture the energy and charisma that Selena brought to the stage at every show? The casting directors cast a wide net reminiscent of the legendary search that brought Vivian Leigh into the role of Scarlett O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND. Over 22,000 (!) aspiring actresses auditioned for the role, and established stars like Salma Hayek and telenovela favorite Bibi Gaytán were also considered.

In the end, four professional actresses and three hopefuls from the casting calls were chosen to advance to screen tests. Among the final seven was a backup dancer and unproven actress named Jennifer Lopez, who had significant stage experience, thanks to stints on tour with New Kids on the Block and the hit TV show “In Living Color,” but very little onscreen experience. Being suddenly thrust into the spotlight proved to be the least of Lopez’s challenges, however, as she immediately received criticism from Selena fans who felt that a New York-born, Puerto Rican-American actress should not portray a Texas-born, Mexican-American singer.

Nevertheless, Lopez poured every ounce of energy and dedication that she had into the role, moving in with Selena’s sister Suzette in order to learn more about the late musician from the people who knew her best. And, while you might think that Lopez’s background as a dancer would have prepared her to play this role, the actress actually had the opposite experience. “It’s very difficult to unlearn everything your body is accustomed to doing and that it does naturally,” Lopez has said. “I had to learn what Selena did, which is very different from my own dance instinct.”

Ultimately, Lopez’s efforts would win over Selena fans around the world, most importantly (to Lopez) from those in Selena’s hometown of Corpus Christi. But the film’s director, Gregory Nava, had his own potential roadblocks to deal with, including a few involving Selena’s father Abraham Quintanilla Jr. Having been very protective of his daughter throughout her career, Abraham was understandably even more protective of her story after her death. He felt that the film should avoid depicting Selena’s assassination, but Nava convinced him that acknowledging this horrific moment was crucial to telling Selena’s story.

He was right. In the end, the most remarkable thing about Selena is how much she continues to mean to us even after her death. Though she was cruelly prevented from giving us more music and memorable moments, the work that she did accomplish in her all-too-short career will continue to stand the test of time and inspire future generations of fans.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Shadow of a Doubt

1943

108 min
B&W

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Thornton Wilder
Cinematography: Joseph A. Valentine
Editor: Milton Carruth
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright, Macdonald Carey, Wallace Ford, Hume Cronyn, Patricia Collinge, Henry Travers, Clarence Muse

Alfred Hitchcock, the cinematic “master of suspense,” ranks as one of the greatest filmmakers of the twentieth century. He produced an astonishing body of work, fifty-five feature films over a period of fifty-one years, films that are still being seen, studied, and enjoyed by audiences around the world to this day.

Hitchcock made his debut in the silent cinema of Great Britain with his first feature, THE PLEASURE GARDEN (1925). His last film, FAMILY PLOT, was released in 1976. In between were films that brought a new visual vocabulary to the cinema and made the name “Alfred Hitchcock” synonymous with suspense. Major thematic concerns are found in most of these films, themes that Hitchcock explored in a variety of ways. Among these are questions of identity and ordinary men and women suddenly thrust into a world of danger and intrigue.

Hitchcock made a name for himself in Great Britain with such films as THE LODGER (1927), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE 39 STEPS (1935) and THE LADY VANISHES (1938). Hitchcock came to the United States to work with legendary producer David O. Selznick in 1940. The result was REBECCA, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture of the year. It’s the only Hitchcock film to win that coveted award and, astonishingly, Hitchcock himself never won a Best Director Oscar. But time has vindicated that oversight. Hitchcock’s masterpiece, VERTIGO (1958), was named the number one film of all time in a 2012 British Film Institute/SIGHT AND SOUND critics’ poll, replacing the long-standing champion CITIZEN KANE (1941).

By his own admission, SHADOW OF A DOUBT was Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite film. It’s a top grade thriller that examines the thin line between the normal and abnormal, as represented by a smart, spirited young woman named Charlie (Teresa Wright) who lives with her average family in an average American town, and her itinerant bachelor Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten), whom she was named after and to whom she feels a special telepathic bond.

Wright lives in Santa Rosa, California, with her mild-mannered banker father (Henry Travers), warmhearted, trusting mother (Patricia Collinge), bookworm younger sister (a funny performance by Edna May Wonacott), and young brother (Charles Bates). She hopes that Uncle Charlie’s surprise visit will put a charge in her family’s dull daily routine.

That the two Charlies are two sides of the same person (“twins,” as they call each other) is immediately obvious. After seeing her idyllic street and house, we first find Wright lying in bed facing east (he is in Philadelphia), bored with the world. After seeing a nearby dump and the outside of his rundown apartment building, we first find Cotten lying in bed facing west, despising the world.

In an overall superb cast, Wright stands out as the brave, determined Charlie. Thornton Wilder, who co-wrote the script, was responsible for the small-town-America ambiance and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Story. The film was remade in 1958 as STEP DOWN TO TERROR.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog


Singin’ in the Rain

1952

103 min
Color

Director: Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
Screenplay: Adolph Green, Betty Comden
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Choreography: Gene Kelly
Cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, Cyd Charisse

Nearly every list and poll has come to the consensus that SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is the greatest film musical of all time, and it’s hard to argue that point. SINGIN’ is not only a pure film musical, in the sense that it wasn’t adapted from Broadway or any other pre-existing production, but it is also about film itself, specifically the tumultuous period when silent movies were being replaced by talkies and actors were suddenly faced with new challenges.

Gene Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a silent film star who is forced (for publicity’s sake) into a false romance with his frequent leading lady, the insufferable Lina Lamont (a brilliant performance from Jean Hagen). When the talkie craze forces Don and Lina to speak in their next picture, the results are hysterically disastrous.

These insider details, from fake PR relationships to silent actors struggling to adapt to talkies, are what makes SINGIN’ so appealing to film fans. Here is a film acknowledging all the sordid details of Hollywood, and doing it with a smile and a wink. Lightening the mood is Donald O’Connor as Cosmo Brown, Don’s long-time best friend and a constant reminder of Don’s humble beginnings.

O’Connor’s legendary “Make ‘Em Laugh” sequence is just one of the marvelous set pieces in the film. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite. Is it the delightful “Good Morning,” featuring Don’s love interest played by Debbie Reynolds? Or the “Broadway Melody” ballet with the sultry Cyd Charisse? Or what about Kelly’s dazzling dance through heavy rain (which had milk added to it so you could see it better)?

That title song, along with virtually every other song in the film, had actually been written long before the film went into production, with most of them coming from the catalog of Arthur Freed and Nacio Herd Brown. As it turned out, packaging them together in this unforgettable film would etch them into the history books. SINGIN IN THE RAIN stands the test of time as a shining example of casting the right singers and dancers, staging extraordinary set pieces, and finding those special moments that send movie musicals, and the audience, soaring.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Sleepless in Seattle

1993

106 min
Color

Director: Nora Ephron
Screenplay: Nora Ephron, David S. Ward, Jeff Arch
Cinematography: Sven Nykvist
Editor: Robert M. Reitano
Music: Marc Shaiman
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Ross Malinger, Rosie O’Donnell, Bill Pullman, Rob Reiner, David Hyde Pierce, Rita Wilson

As successful as Nora Ephron’s directing career would prove to be, it didn’t exactly get off to a flying start. Though she had already earned Best Screenplay Oscar nominations for her writing work on SILKWOOD and WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, that winning streak didn’t translate to her directorial debut, THIS IS MY LIFE.

But the downturn didn’t last long, as her next film not only earned her a third Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay but was also a box office smash. Made with a budget of just $22 million, SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE went on to earn a staggering $126 million as word of mouth made it the hottest date movie of 1993.

As fate slowly but surely brings Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan together in the film, there are many references to cinematic classics, particularly the Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr romance AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER. Those were the films that Ephron was raised on. In fact, her own parents, Henry and Phoebe Ephron, wrote a few of those old gems, including CAROUSEL, DADDY LONG LEGS, and DESK SET. After starting her career as a journalist for the New York Post, Ephron eventually got involved in the family business, writing characters that the most sought-after actors in town desperately wanted to play.

Hanks was drawn to his character, Sam Baldwin, because he felt the role offered a bit more depth than the other romantic comedies he had previously appeared in. “The guy is enmeshed in grieving,” Hanks said, “and no one has to work hard in buying that attractive premise.”

Ryan ultimately won her role after many other actresses had turned it down, including Julia Roberts, Kim Basinger, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Jodie Foster. As is so often the case in Hollywood, though, the pairing of Hanks and Ryan was meant to be. Audiences loved them together so much that Ephron eventually reteamed them in YOU’VE GOT MAIL, a modern remake of the classic THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Sound of Music

1965

174 min
Color

Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Ernest Lehman
Cinematography: Ted McCord
Music: Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Cast: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker, Richard Haydn, Peggy Wood, Charmian Carr

Let’s start at the very beginning. The original Broadway production of “The Sound of Music,” starring Mary Martin, opened November 16, 1959 and closed in June 1963 after 1,443 performances, a smash hit run that saw it win the Tony Award for Best Musical. That was the third Best Musical Tony Award for legendary composer/lyricist duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II (after “South Pacific” and “The King and I”).

Darryl Zanuck, then head of 20th Century Fox, and his producer son Richard acquired the rights to the successful musical and began to seek out a director. Their first choice, Robert Wise, initially thought the musical was “too saccharine” and passed on the opportunity. Eventually, the Zanucks convinced William Wyler (BEN-HUR, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, MRS. MINIVER) to take the job, and it was actually Wyler who signed Julie Andrews to play Maria after seeing her in “My Fair Lady” on Broadway.

However, Wyler was ultimately pulled away by a more personal project, and Robert Wise was finally convinced to come on board, with Julie Andrews already signed and ready to go. The other lead role of Captain von Trapp was filled by Christopher Plummer, who was by no means a good singer. However, the Captain role doesn’t require much singing (his few songs were dubbed by Bill Lee), and Plummer’s solemn gravity proved to be the perfect balance to the more lighthearted moments in the film.

That being said, the real Maria von Trapp has gone on record as saying that her husband was never the cold, cruel man he is shown to be in the early parts of the film. In fact, a great deal of the story in the film digresses from the truth, due to the fact that the von Trapps had given up the rights to their family story in the 1950s and no longer had control over their own cinematic portrayals.

But hey, that’s showbiz! And in the case of this film, all the dramatic changes prove fruitful, as the story effortlessly follows multiple plot strands, from Maria’s struggles to become a mature woman to her romance with the Captain to the growing influence of the Nazi party.

These storylines have been given the gift of immortality thanks to the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein, with songs like “I Have Confidence,” “Something Good,” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” furthering the development of the narrative while tunes like “Do-Re-Mi,” “The Lonely Goatherd,” and “My Favorite Things” are just good old-fashioned fun. The film ultimately carried the Broadway production’s success across the nation, saved 20th Century Fox from its financial problems, and briefly displaced GONE WITH THE WIND as the highest grossing movie of all time.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Spy Who Loved Me

1977

125 min
Color

Director: Lewis Gilbert
Screenplay: Christopher Wood, Richard Maibaum
Cinematography: Claude Renoir
Editor: John Glen
Music: Marvin Hamlisch
Cast: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curt Jurgens, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro, Bernard Lee

Roger Moore’s third outing as James Bond, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, was the most expensive Bond film ever made at the time. In fact, it cost as much as Moore’s first two Bond films combined. But it was worth every penny as it became a hit at the box office and arguably the best entry in Moore’s entire tenure.

It’s well known what a considerable challenge it was for anyone to step into Sean Connery’s shoes as the iconic spy. Australian actor George Lazenby gave it a try with 1969’s ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE and was ultimately a one-and-done Bond (though many have revisited the film and now give it the credit it truly deserves).

Rather than trying to recreate Connery’s Bond, Moore went a completely route, bringing humor and a bit of camp to the role – and his films followed suit. Perhaps it took time for audiences to buy into his approach, and it seems that finally paid off with THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

Besides Moore’s performance, there are many other praiseworthy elements in this entry, from the unforgettable opening sequence on the ski slopes to a bonafide romantic pairing (a rare thing for Bond, at least before the Daniel Craig days) with one of the most formidable of Bond costars, Barbara Bach.

And of course there’s Jaws, the ludicrously entertaining (and tall) villain with steel teeth played by Richard Kiel. Shamelessly named after Steven Spielberg’s 1975 smash hit, the character proved so popular with test audiences that the filmmakers reversed course from their original plan to have him eaten by a shark by the end of the film. What happens instead? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.

To top off this bounty of greatness, you get one of the very best Bond title songs ever – and interestingly, the first not to share the title of the film. Though Carly Simon does manage to squeeze “the spy who loved me” into the lyrics of her song, the actual title “Nobody Does It Better” seems to perfectly describe Simon’s contribution to the Bond song legacy. It was the second Bond song nominated for an Oscar (the first being Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die”), and it reached #2 on the charts (only Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill” had bettered it by reaching #1).

Knowing they had a hit on their hands, producers ended the closing credits with a note that James Bond would return in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY – but they were only half right. After the global phenomenon that was STAR WARS, they ultimately pivoted for the next film and sent Bond into space instead in MOONRAKER.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

1982

113 min
Color

Director: Nicholas Meyer
Screenplay: Jack B. Sowards
Cinematography: Gayne Rescher
Editor: William Paul Dornisch
Music: James Horner
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Paul Winfield, Ricardo Montalban

It’s hard to believe now, given how successful the Star Trek franchise has become, that the original, William Shatner-starring series was not an immediate hit with audiences. Launching in September 1966, the series only lasted for three seasons, cancelled due to low ratings.

But then syndication happened, and the frequent re-airings (often in the late afternoon when younger audiences could watch) turned Star Trek into a cult phenomenon. Suddenly thousands of “Trekkies” were turning up at conventions across the country to celebrate their new favorite show. This newfound popularity led to a brief revival as an animated series in 1973, but the best was yet to come on the big screen. Just maybe not right away…

To the great delight of fans, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was scheduled for release in 1979, directed by the legendary Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music) and starring everyone’s favorite Enterprise crew. While dedicated Trekkies no doubt got their money’s worth from this film, the response from critics and the broader audience was mixed, focusing in on the film’s slow pace and lack of action. The film made $139 million at the box office after being made for a budget of $44 million – not exactly a smash, but successful enough for the studio to take a chance on a lower budget sequel that would hopefully deliver a bit more action and intrigue.

And thus we get Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, considered one of the greatest sequels ever filmed. Ironically, its success came at the expense of Star Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry. The studio blamed his creative decisions – and constant rewrites – on the first film for its less than glowing reception, and they denied him any real creative input on Khan or any of the films that followed.

Producer Harve Bennett was hired to oversee Khan instead. In comparing some of the best episodes of the original series to the first film, he realized that one major thing the film lacked was a strong villain to drive the plot and give Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and crew a source of real conflict. Luckily, the perfect villain was hiding in plain sight…Season 1, Episode 22 to be exact.

“Space Seed” featured a villain called Khan Noonien Singh portrayed by Ricardo Montalban, who was more than happy to reprise the role for the silver screen. Audiences and critics agreed with Bennett – Montalban’s performance as Khan was singled out as one of the highlights that made this sequel the Star Trek film fans and non-fans alike had been waiting for.

To say the film was a success would be an understatement. After being made for the paltry sum of just $12 million, the film proceeded to earn it all back on opening weekend. In fact, its $14 million opening weekend gross was a record breaker – the largest in history at the time.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Sting

1973

129 min
Color

Director: George Roy Hill
Screenplay: David W. Maurer, David S. Ward
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Editor: William Reynolds
Music: Scott Joplin (adapted by Marvin Hamlisch)
Cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan

In early 1970s America, headlines were dominated by the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, and many of the cinematic dramas released at the time were unafraid to tackle these events head-on, with gripping immediacy. It’s no surprise, then, that a raucously funny heist film, led by two of the most popular (not to mention handsomest) movie stars of the era, became one of the top-grossing films of the decade and won seemingly every Oscar imaginable, include the statuette for Best Picture.

After the runaway success of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, that film’s director George Roy Hill and his two leads, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, were determined to top themselves with THE STING, not by trying something new but by honing the formula that had proven so successful with the earlier film.

As he had on BUTCH CASSIDY, Hill worked closely with his art director, Henry Bumstead (another Oscar winner for his work on THE STING), to painstakingly recreate the period setting of the film — in this case, the Depression-era 1930s. In addition to Bumstead’s set dressing, Hill also actively sought out shooting locations that had not been modernized, including Los Angeles’ Biltmore Hotel and Santa Monica Carousel and Chicago’s Union Station.

Taking yet another page from the BUTCH CASSIDY playbook, Hill once again included a number of stylistic references to films from the era. Whereas he used sepia tones and other touches to mimic the turn-of-the-century silent films that would have played during Butch Cassidy’s time, Hill filled THE STING with vintage title cards signaling each chapter and old-fashioned “wipes” to transition from one scene to the next. He even studied the gangster films of the 1930s and discovered that many of them used very few extras. “For instance,” said Hill, “…no extras would be used in street scenes in those films: Jimmy Cagney would be shot down and die in an empty street. So I deliberately avoided using extras.”

Not that he really needed to hire extras, as on-location street shoots with the now mega-famous Newman and Redford tended to draw quite a crowd, leading many of the crew members to draw a comparison to Beatlemania. As one of them later pointed out, “I used to go see Sinatra at the Paramount in New York when I was a kid, and, my God, I never saw anything like that until now. I bet the temperature in here went up 22 degrees when Newman walked in.”

Thanks to Hill’s direction of this deliriously entertaining classic, the two co-stars’ global popularity (and the close friendship that began on the set of BUTCH CASSIDY) only grew stronger, cementing them both as Hollywood icons.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Strangers on a Train

1951

101 min
B&W

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Raymond Chandler, Czenzi Ormonde, Ben Hecht
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editor: William Ziegler
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker, Laura Elliott, Leo G. Carroll, Patricia Hitchcock, Marion Lorne, Jonathan Hale

***If you are seeing this film for the first time and want to remain in the dark about the plot, don’t read these notes until the film is over!***

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the greatest filmmakers of the twentieth century. He was one of only a handful of directors whose name alone came to signify a specific type of film. John Ford meant westerns, Frank Capra was equated with “little guy against the system” stories, Orson Welles was the great, baroque visual stylist, and Hitchcock was “the master of suspense.” He earned that title by artfully manipulating both the vocabulary of the cinema and the expectations of his audiences.

Hitchcock made more than fifty films in his career, beginning with the British silent film THE PLEASURE GARDEN (1925) and ending with FAMILY PLOT (1976). In between, he produced an astonishing body of work that is still being studied today and which continues to enthrall audiences.

The majority of Hitchcock’s films were stylish thrillers which touched on a number of thematic concerns, among them the idea that the world is a far more dangerous place than it appears, fraught with sudden peril. It’s a chaotic universe into which innocent people are unexpectedly thrust, where identity can be mistaken with deadly consequences, and where the ordinary and mundane can prove murderous.

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is one of Hitchcock’s supreme thrillers, with a screenplay by legendary mystery novelist Raymond Chandler from a novel by another master, Patricia Highsmith. Tennis pro Guy Haines (Granger) would like to marry Ann Morton (Roman), the daughter of a senator (Carroll), but his wife Miriam (Elliott) won’t give him a divorce. On a train, total stranger Bruno Anthony (Walker) offers to murder Miriam if Guy will do away with his rich, disciplinarian father (Hale). Guy tokenly agrees, thinking that Bruno is joking. Bruno is not joking.

Hitchcock steadily ratchets up the suspense, and he stages many memorable set pieces along the way. There are great iconic images such as a tennis match in which swiveling heads reveal a dangerous presence, a murder seen in the fallen glasses of the victim, and the meticulously staged and edited climax on a crushing, out-of-control merry-go-round.

The performances are strong, with Walker’s young madman exuding wit and urbanity with a sinister streak lurking just below the surface. The screenplay is top notch, Hitchcock’s visual style is assured, and the pace, plotting and cutting of the film all work to produce a first-rate exercise in suspense.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog


Tampopo

1985

115 min
Color

Director: Jûzô Itami
Screenplay: Jûzô Itami
Cinematography: Masaki Tamura
Editor: Akira Suzuki
Music: Kunihiko Murai
Cast: Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Kōji Yakusho, Ken Watanabe, Rikiya Yasuoka

“Criticize customs through humor.” This is a translated Molière saying that Director Jûzô Itami took to heart in all 11 films he wrote and directed. Among them is Tampopo, the sensory masterpiece that critiques Japan’s cultural post-war economic transition through humor and food.

In Tampopo, Itami diverts from the main narrative of a young widow seeking guidance from a truck driving cowboy to help her revive her inherited ramen shop to take us to corners of Japanese culture and the slices of Japanese life that all center around food. Itami’s own life resembled these shifting storylines of Tampopo. Once a commercial designer, actor, essayist, television presenter, and magazine editor-in-chief, Itami didn’t begin his directing career until 50.

Watching “The Making of Tampopo,” a behind-the-scenes look into the making of this film, we learn Itami’s own wife Nobuko Miyamoto played Tampopo and their son played himself in this film. We also learn where Itami got his signature observational style from, as he was the son of Mansaku Itami, a famous film director whose samurai films satirized samurai culture and its role in historical and modern society.

The most inspirational takeaway of watching this rare glimpse into the making of an auteur is the care and dedication he brought to every scene of the film. From the multitude of screen tests for things like broth color and noodle thickness to make sure the ramen looked as good as it smelled to acting out almost every scene with his actors, Tampopo is clearly not only a love letter to food, but the art of cinema itself.

–Jenni Kaye, Hyperreal Film Club


They Live

1988

97 min
Color

Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: John Carpenter (as “Frank Armitage”)
Cinematography: Gary B. Kibbe
Editors: Gib Jaffe, Frank E. Jimenez
Music: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George ‘Buck’ Flower, Peter Jason, Raymond St. Jacques

Ask the general populace what John Carpenter film rules their hearts, and the survey might say 1986’s BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA – at once a brilliant John Wayne send-up and an innovative take on 80s black magic films. But hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. Upon release, the film is a critical and commercial failure, crushed at the box office by a similar one Carpenter himself declines to direct – THE GOLDEN CHILD.

If you’re looking for the most interesting point in a storied career, this great “what If” could be it. Eddie Murphy’s half-assed adventure isn’t the only film Carpenter turns down in the mid-80s. Ever hear of a couple little movies called TOP GUN and FATAL ATTRACTION? What if BIG TROUBLE, his biggest-budget film to date, finds its audience right away? Better yet, what if the B-movie master flies into the danger zone?

Instead, he signs a four-picture deal with Alive films, a low-rent production facilitator with a Universal distribution deal. Alive promises to fork over a cool three million in exchange for each of four elevator pitches, and three mil for Carpenter is like eighty mil for your average Hollywood quack. He recalls his first pitch as thus, “The Devil is buried under a Los Angeles church, and graduate science students come to fight him.” The resultant PRINCE OF DARKNESS does what it says on the tin, but also skillfully explores quantum physics and once again proves Carpenter’s genius of cheap and memorable scares.

Perhaps the oddest part of PRINCE OF DARKNESS is a wordless appearance by Alice Cooper, whom Carpenter meets backstage at Wrestlemania 3. During this weirdly fateful weekend, he’s also introduced to “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, an infamous heel known for audacious one-liners. Something clicks – Piper, playing against type, can provide the physical and theatrical necessities of a western hero for pennies on the dollar.

THEY LIVE should be Carpenter’s worst film – the comically long stage fight, the on-the-nose messaging, the scope drastically exceeding that three-million-dollar budget. Piper is given the freedom to determine his character’s backstory in exchange for access to a notebook of his wrestling catchphrases. What? Instead, slowly but surely, this yuppie takedown produces an American iconography for the ages – the new DR. STRANGELOVE, claimed by every side of the political spectrum.

Look more closely, and you’ll find the reason it endures. Beyond its mad-as-hell core, THEY LIVE loves movies and loves making them with friends. They don’t make matte backdrops and miniatures like Jim Danforth’s anymore, or recognize all-time gun-for-hire Keith David’s ability to sizzle as a central character. They don’t let Kevin Costner’s personal makeup artist Frank Carrisosa, who barely has SFX experience, design the all-important skinless alien faces, much less put them on Siskel and Ebert. And they don’t let the director save money on sound by playing a blues riff into the dirt, one that David Edelstein rightly says “can plug into your heartbeat like the bass line on a video game.”

THEY LIVE is the best kind of movie magic. The kind that lets you play along. The kind that’s DIY to the bone.

–Tanner Carlos Hadfield, Hyperreal Film Club


The Thin Man

1934

93 min
B&W

Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Screenplay: Albert Hackett & Frances Goodrich
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Editor: Robert Kern
Music: William Axt
Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan, Nat Pendleton, Asta

Although THE THIN MAN has its roots in the mystery genre (the source novel was written by the legendarily hard-boiled author Dashiell Hammett), the movie proved to be that rarest of whodunits in which the main attraction isn’t the person who committed the murder but the people trying to solve it. That unique appeal is all thanks to the iconic teaming of William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, who were not only two of the screen’s greatest detectives but also one of its most intriguing married couples.

Hammett’s story fell into the right hands at MGM in the form of director W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke, who had himself written a few of his own mystery novels. As fate would have it, Van Dyke had just finished directing MANHATTAN MELODRAMA, a film in which Clark Gable receives top billing but Powell and Loy steal the show. Van Dyke couldn’t help but notice that the charming banter and warm friendship the two actors enjoyed off-screen had actually made its way on-screen, and he felt that no one else could play Nick and Nora. The studio executives took some convincing, but Van Dyke was up to the task.

The casting was also a boon for the screenwriting team, who just happened to be the perfect pair to adapt the story: husband and wife Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. No strangers to charming banter and the warmth of marriage themselves, Hackett and Goodrich were given the go-ahead to focus more on Nick and Nora’s playfulness and less on the bothersome details of who killed whom. Considering that the screenwriters were about the closest thing you could find to Nick and Nora in real life, they happily obliged.

Armed with that dialogue and the full backing of Van Dyke, Powell and Loy gave career-topping performances. In fact, they were so convincing in the roles that the movie-going public became convinced the pair were a real-life married couple. It helped that their on-screen marriage was a kind not often seen in movies. Whereas, in other films, marriage served as the basis for domestic disputes (as in dramas) or happy endings (as in romances), here the couple’s love for each other is matter-of-fact and without question. It also helps that Nick and Nora are socially active, ceaselessly fun-loving, and always have a drink in their hands, which is what made this film one of the first and greatest examples of the screwball comedy genre.

These details also made the film a massive hit with audiences and critics alike. Powell and Loy’s careers reached new heights, the film received a bevy of Oscar nominations, and five (that’s right, five!) sequels ultimately followed. As if that weren’t impressive enough, the film even made the Charles family dog, Asta (and wire-haired terriers in general), the most beloved dog in households across America.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


To Kill a Mockingbird

1962

130 min
B&W

Director: Robert Mulligan
Screenplay: Horton Foote
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
Editor: Aaron Stell
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Philip Alford, John Megna, Robert Duvall

Often, when a popular novel is adapted to the screen, the author of the novel is understandably concerned. Will the characters, with whom readers have already fallen in love, translate well to the movies? Will the dialogue (and even more challengingly, the narration) work in script form? And most importantly, will the movie be any good?

Perhaps no one has had a greater reason to worry than Harper Lee, who had not only won the Pulitzer Prize for her 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird but had also put a great deal of her own childhood into the book. In other words, to say that this novel was a personal project for Lee would be an understatement. So it was perhaps the greatest compliment of all when Lee said of the film, “I can only say that I am a happy author. They have made my story into a beautiful and moving motion picture. I am very proud and grateful.”

So, how did the producers of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD manage to turn a beloved novel (not to mention a potentially controversial one) into an equally beloved film? Certainly, one of the keys was recognizing that, amidst the book’s considerable focus on racial prejudice and Southern bigotry, the emotional center of the story was ultimately the loving relationship between siblings Scout and Jem and their father, Atticus Finch.

It helped to have an actor of Gregory Peck’s caliber take on the role of Atticus, a towering literary figure in the hearts and minds of all who have read the novel. It was said that when Harper Lee first visited the set and saw Peck approaching in his Panama hat and three-piece linen suit, she burst into tears and cried, “He’s got a pot belly just like my Daddy!” Peck took a quick glance at his waistline and then warmly retorted, “That’s no pot belly Harper, that’s great acting…”

The bond between Peck and Lee only grew over time. Lee was fiercely protective of Peck’s performance and was so certain it could not be outdone that she flatly refused any attempts to adapt the novel to stage or television, stating, “There isn’t anyone else who could play the part.” As a parting gift, Lee gave Peck the pocket watch that her father had passed down to her after his death. Months later, on Oscar night, Peck would find himself clutching a Best Actor statuette in one hand and Lee’s pocket watch in the other.

That statuette represented one of the eight Oscars for which the film was nominated, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (for young Mary Badham who portrayed Scout), and Best Music Score for Elmer Bernstein’s lyrical and haunting soundtrack. Also a winner on Oscar night was writer Horton Foote, who was given the Best Adapted Screenplay prize for so carefully and elegantly bringing the story to life through the eyes of a six-year-old girl.

By telling the story this way, Foote and director Robert Mulligan allow the audience to experience the events of the novel just as Scout would, as if we’re all kids again listening through the walls to hear what the adults are talking about. That’s the key to the film’s accessibility for all audiences – it’s a very different experience for kids and adults, but nevertheless one we all can enjoy.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Tokyo Story

1953

136 min
B&W

Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Screenplay: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu
Cinematography: Yuharu Atsuta
Editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura
Music: Kojun Saito
Cast: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara, Haruko Sugimura, Nobuo Nakamura, So Yamamura

In the most recent Sight and Sound poll of 846 critics, programmers, and scholars, Yasujiro Ozu’s masterpiece TOKYO STORY ranks as the third greatest film ever made. As for Sight and Sound’s separate poll of 348 directors, whose experience behind the camera arguably provides them with the greatest insight on the subject? TOKYO STORY tops that list at #1. In other words, no matter whom you ask, those who have seen Ozu’s film usually think very highly of it.

How shocking, then, to consider that more than a decade passed between the release of TOKYO STORY in Ozu’s native Japan and its first screening for a Western audience. Film historians have suggested that, while Akira Kurosawa’s costume dramas and period pieces were an immediate draw for Western art-house audiences looking to gain insight into the legends of Japan, Ozu’s contemporary “home dramas” were deemed by Western film distributors to be less interesting to their audiences.

Some of those distributors even went on record as believing Ozu’s work was “too Japanese,” though perhaps what they were really objecting to was Ozu’s exquisitely unhurried pace and resistance to camera movement. Certainly, no one would use describe Ozu’s shooting style as flashy or pulse-quickening, but it is this contemplative approach to filmmaking that allowed the director to quietly observe the humanity and poignancy of his superbly written characters.

In the script department, Ozu had help from his frequent screenwriting partner, Kogo Noda. The two collaborated frequently, beginning with Ozu’s debut film and leading up to another of his masterpieces, LATE SPRING (1949). It was Noda who introduced Ozu to Hollywood director Leo McCarey’s unheralded gem MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937), which ultimately provided the basis of the narrative for TOKYO STORY. While TOKYO STORY has become the more renowned of the two, both are certainly worth your time.

Like many screenwriters, Noda and Ozu composed the screenplay with specific actors in mind, crafting the perfect dialogue to fit each actor’s performance. So perfect, in fact, that Ozu was unwilling to make even the slightest changes during production. TOKYO STORY’s lead actor, Chishu Ryu, recalls, “By the time Ozu finished writing a script, he had made up every image in every shot, so that he never changed the scenario after we went on the set. And the words were so polished up that he would not allow us even a single mistake. All we actors had to do was to follow his directions, from the way we lifted and dropped our arms to the way we blinked our eyes. Even if I did not know what I was doing and how those shots would be connected in the end, when I looked at the first screening I was often surprised to find my performance far better than I had expected.”

Though released in Japan in 1953, TOKYO STORY wasn’t screened in the States until 1964, when the Museum of Modern Art finally unveiled the film to an American audience. However, that single screening was all we got until 1972, when the film was finally distributed throughout the nation thanks to New Yorker Films.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Vertigo

1958

130 min
Color

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Samuel A. Taylor, Alec Coppel
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editor: George Tomasini
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones

***If you are seeing this film for the first time and want to remain in the dark about the plot, don’t read these notes until the film is over!***

In 1952, French crime novelists Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac (known among the French public simply as Boileau-Narcejac) published the literary hit “Celle qui n’etait plus,” which was eventually adapted to the screen as DIABOLIQUE by director Henri-Georges Clouzot. The film was such a smash in France, and so similar to what one might describe as a “Hitchcockian film,” that Boileau-Narcejac wrote another novel, “D’entre les morts,” in the hopes that it might actually become a Hitchcock film. Paramount Pictures took the bait and bought the rights for Hitchcock, who turned the novel into perhaps his greatest masterpiece, VERTIGO.

Hitchcock later said that what appealed to him most was the concept of a man essentially trying to revive a dead woman by making over another who bears more than a passing resemblance. Jimmy Stewart, playing against type as an obsessive-bordering-on-cruel detective, becomes enamored with Kim Novak just before she seemingly plummets to her death, only to run into another woman who looks just like her.

What we learn almost immediately after this chance meeting (though Stewart himself remains in the dark about it) is that the two women are in fact the same woman. That this isn’t a spoiler alert is a huge departure from the book, which actually uses this reveal as its final plot twist. It’s also evidence of how much power Hitchcock had accumulated between REBECCA (when producer David O. Selznick forced him to remain completely faithful to the source novel) and VERTIGO. The Paramount executives wanted Hitchcock to keep this information a secret until the end just as the novel had, but Hitchcock got his way, arguing that giving the audience this critical piece of information while withholding it from Stewart would amp up the tension considerably. And of course he was right.

But Hitchcock wasn’t right about everything. Believe it or not, Hitchcock would later say he regretted casting Stewart for this part, wondering if perhaps the actor was too old for the role. Tell that to Stewart fans like myself, who are so grateful to see him do something other than the “aw, gee” roles that made him an icon. Perhaps it’s the context provided by those earlier good guy parts that makes his descent into madness in this film particularly unsettling. Plus, I would argue that his advanced age adds a certain poignancy to his character’s weaknesses and desires that would have been lost with a younger actor in the part.

As for Novak, Hitchcock would later say that he had to “settle” for her after Vera Miles became pregnant and had to bow out. We should all be so lucky to “settle” for the kind of performance that Novak gives here, managing to be first a mysterious, otherworldly beauty and then an achingly vulnerable, touchingly authentic human being over the course of a single film.

Despite these two great leads and the breathtaking location photography in San Francisco (how ingenious to shoot VERTIGO in one of the most vertical cities in the U.S.), both critics and audiences at the time faulted the film for moving at a snail’s pace, especially compared to some of Hitchcock’s other masterpieces of suspense. However, arguably no film has benefitted from passing time and changing tastes more than VERTIGO, which recently overtook CITIZEN KANE atop the 2012 Sight and Sound list of the greatest films ever made.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


What Ever Happened to Baby Jane

1962

118 min
B&W

Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: Lukas Heller
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Editor: Michael Luciano
Music: Frank De Vol
Cast: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono, Marjorie Bennett

Movie buffs love a good movie about making movies. From comedic takes like SINGIN IN THE RAIN and THE PLAYER to considerably darker dramas like SUNSET BLVD and THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, these films frequently appear on favorites lists.

But if you’re looking for something on the campier side…on the cult classic side…on the “I can’t believe I’m seeing these two legendary actresses square off against each other in this unapologetic genre gem” side… look no further than Robert Aldrich’s WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) starring two of the industry’s most iconic leading ladies, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

The PR team was surely salivating at the idea of being able to market these two larger-than-life actresses in such a potentially scandalous tale. And they have Joan Crawford to thank for the opportunity. After working with Aldrich on the 1956 film AUTUMN LEAVES and striking up a long-term relationship, she mentioned to him that she had always been interesting in working alongside Davis. Neither she nor Davis were anywhere near the heights of popularity they had enjoyed earlier in their careers, Aldrich figured that BABY JANE might be just the ticket to revitalizing them in the public eye.

It didn’t hurt that the two lead characters essentially offered each actress the chance to revisit their unique star personas. Crawford, who had excelled as long-suffering characters like 1945’s MILDRED PIERCE, returns to similar territory here, while Davis really chews the scenery as the strong-willed, take-no-prisoners character that won her so many accolades.

Adding to their natural talent was the (supposed) real-life rivalry that existed between them. It’s a safe bet that the reported animosities on set were fabricated at least in part by a marketing department keen on getting publicity by any means necessary – in fact, Davis reported in her own autobiography that “Joan Crawford and I got along famously much to the huge disappointment of the Hollywood press.” But stories leaked to reporters suggested that the two actresses were at each other throats over who was being the paid most, who would get billed first, whose approach to acting was the best approach, and so on.

And of course it worked, with audiences showing up in droves to see fireworks onscreen that they were convinced had been fueled by genuine hatred. Unbothered in the least by mixed reviews from film critics (for whom this movie was clearly not made), this low-budget thriller grossed a very admirable $9 million at the box office, and Davis received her gajillionth Oscar nomination.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

1988

88 min
Color

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Screenplay: Pedro Almodovar
Cinematography: Jose Luis Alcaine
Editor: Jose Salcedo
Music: Bernardo Bonezzi
Cast: Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Julieta Serrano, Maria Barranco, Rossy de Palma, Kiti Manver

The following is excerpted from “A Sweet New Style” written for The Criterion Collection by Elvira Lindo.

In 1988, when Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown made its debut, Spain had debuted its first decade of democracy, the socialist party had been in power since 1982, and I was a twenty-six-year-old radio personality. The entire country seemed brand-new, and the explosion of color and thirst for freedom were so intense that even its oldest citizens made an effort to update their outlook. Madrid brimmed with young men and women abandoning the coarse aesthetic of anti-Franco activists to look like members of modern metropolitan tribes. The city opened to nightlife like a flower, and brazen self-assurance took over spaces once occupied by fear. Looking back on it now, we can see how lucky we were to be part of that unique moment: there was no such thing as political correctness or self-censorship—in those days, boldness and recklessness reigned. This scene was as dangerous as it was fun; the most prudent or the luckiest among us survived, but many innocent lives were lost along the way. In the eighties, heroin claimed many of Spain’s youths in urban and rural areas alike, but the freedom offered by the big city in particular lent itself to roaming around at night and frequenting places where anything could happen. If you wanted to keep up with the times, you had to give in to temptation. Some artists began to create original and varied bodies of work, while the work of others got trapped in the clouds of smoke that filled city bars and hasn’t stood the test of time. Madrid was the nerve center of this 1980s youth movement, christened La Movida, which was ultimately more about pleasure seeking than it was about building a cultural movement.

This was the Spain from which the beginnings of Pedro Almodóvar’s talent emerged. It is important to keep this in mind, because his early career cannot be understood outside of the context of the urgent claim staked for audacity and personal freedom in the wake of a period that was understandably dominated by the struggle against Franco. Even all these years later, when I watch certain early Almodóvar films—Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980), What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984), Law of Desire (1987)—I can vividly recall the excitement they first stirred in me, and the collective commotion they caused. Their plots dealt with love, desire, vice, betrayal, homosexuality, cross-dressing, and new kinds of families, united by love rather than the Catholic Church, in a way that had never been seen before. And the director didn’t judge his characters. His position, rather than simply accepting what had previously been seen as immoral, was explicitly amoral—a playful and understanding gaze directed at impulsive fauna, especially women, who in his films are driven purely by emotion, casting logic and prudence aside.

How wonderful it was to take in that spectacle and feel like a part of it, to leave the theater with the sense that you could satisfy your desires and not have to feel guilty, strange, or inappropriate. It is difficult for young viewers today to understand just how subversive Almodóvar was at the time, how the laughter his comedies provoked had within it an iron determination not to give up even one of the freedoms that had been gained. Because of this, I believe that his films, whether or not they intended to communicate a political message, contributed to the expansion of our individual rights, especially those of women and gay people—which is to say, those most intimately connected with lifestyle choices—and gave visibility to difference, to the unconventional people among us who until then had remained hidden.

–Elvira Lindo

Click here to read the full article on The Criterion Collection.


Working Girl

1988

114 min
Color

Director: Mike Nichols
Screenplay: Kevin Wade
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Editor: Sam O’Steen
Music: Carly Simon, Rob Mounsey
Cast: Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Melanie Griffith, Alec Baldwin, Joan Cusack

Mike Nichols made a career out of breaking cinematic barriers and venturing beyond the traditional thematic boundaries that had been set for the silver screen. After a stunningly successful run on Broadway from 1963-1965 (he won the Tony Award for Best Director three years in a row thanks to “Barefoot in the Park,” “Luv,” and “The Odd Couple”), Nichols’ debut film, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINA WOOLF? shocked 1966 movie audiences with its frank portrayal of a marriage in crisis and its unprecedented use of verbal profanity previously barred from the screen.

When WOOLF was nominated for a whopping 13 Oscars (one of only two films in history, along with CIMARRON, to be nominated for every category in which it was eligible) and won five, Nichols’ career was off to the races. From there, he went straight into 1967’s THE GRADUATE, an unusually perceptive comedy about youthful uncertainty and unspoken sexual desire, and followed that up with CATCH-22, CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, SILKWOOD, and many other movies aimed squarely at a thoughtful and “grown-up” movie audience.

Fast-forward to 1988, when WORKING GIRL would give Nichols a chance not only to reflect on gender inequalities in the workplace but also to tell that story through an old-school, classical Hollywood-esque romantic comedy. Like those old comedies that starred Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and other great screwball stars of the 30s and 40s, Nichols tapped the 80s’ biggest stars, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver, to play two of the leads.

But for Staten Island secretary Tess McGill, the “working girl” of the title, Nichols looked to Melanie Griffith, who had been flirting with stardom and waiting for a mainstream hit that would push her over the edge. As the daughter of THE BIRDS star Tippi Hedren, Griffith had classical Hollywood in her blood, and her work in Brian De Palma’s BODY DOUBLE and Jonathan Demme’s SOMETHING WILD had already turned several heads in Hollywood.

But it was WORKING GIRL that truly brought her to the world’s attention, not to mention her first Oscar nomination. Reviewing the film, Washington Post critic Rita Kempley asserted that Griffith is “as luminous as Marilyn Monroe and as adorable as one of Disney’s singing mice. She clearly has the stuff of a megastar, and the movie glows from her.”

The glowing reviews weren’t limited to the fantastic cast. Carly Simon’s unforgettable song “Let the River Run” will forever be associated with the film, and the tune went on to win the film’s only Academy Award. More importantly, the film was a massive box-office hit to the tune of $103 million worldwide, proving that there was a massive audience for female-led comedies.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer