Saturday, December 31, 2005


The best classic movies that I saw for the first time this year, in alphabetical order:

BEN-HUR (1925): The silent version of the Biblical epic, with Ramon Novarro. I'm trying to decide if it's worth getting the overblown Heston version on DVD just to get this as an 'extra.' (Mar.)

BORN TO BE BAD (1934): Loretta Young and Cary Grant in one of the last of the naughty pre-Code melodramas; struggling mother Young (in her best bad-girl performance) tries to seduce rich Grant away from his bride-to-be. (Feb.)

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944): Not really a holiday film, but a good noir with two stars playing against type: Deanna Durbin as a fallen woman and Gene Kelly as the murderous mother-loving thug she married. (Dec.)

DON'T TURN 'EM LOOSE (1936): Perhaps the only anti-parole propaganda film ever made. It's a little B-movie gem with Bruce Cabot doing a fine job as a paroled thug who acts like a golden boy in front of his family (including Lewis Stone as his father). (Nov.)

THE GENERAL DIED AT DAWN (1936): The best Marlene Dietrich movie that Dietrich never made. It's a lot like her SHANGHAI EXPRESS but with Madeleine Carroll as the good/bad lady and Gary Cooper as the hero. Funny, sexy, exciting. (July)

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW (1965): Pasolini's bare-bones, documentary-style take on the life of Jesus. Compelling and at times beautiful. (Mar.)

MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN (1960): A low budget French/Italian horror film with a plot that is a cross between HOUSE OF WAX and EYES WITHOUT A FACE. Acting and atmosphere make this stand out above the run-of-the-mill horror film of the time. (Oct.)

THE MODEL AND THE MARRIAGE BROKER (1951): The wonderful Thelma Ritter gets to play a lead role here as a marriage broker who comes to question her life's work, and it's a wonderful, underrated film, a comedy with some serious overtones. (Dec.)

THREE ON A MATCH (1932): Archetypal pre-Code movie with sex and crime and scandal; three former schoolmates (Bette Davis, Ann Dvorak, and Joan Blondell) meet up a few years later and get involved in each other's lives. It's short, fast-paced, and lots of fun. (Technically, I'd seen this before, but remembered little about it) (Apr.)

THE WIND (1928): Silent film with Lillian Gish as a young woman stuck in a marriage of convenience fighting for survival in a barren, wind-swept part of Texas. Melodramatic, but powerful. (Apr.)

THE WOMAN ON PIER 13 (aka I MARRIED A COMMUNIST--1949): Good cross of noir thriller and anti-Communist propaganda. Stars Robert Ryan and Laraine Day are fine, but the real gem is Janis Carter as the icy blonde bad girl. (May)

I saw some good WWII movies, such as GUADALCANAL DIARY, BATAAN, SO PROUDLY WE HAIL, and THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY. I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of Shirley Temple films (BRIGHT EYES and REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM) and I had fun seeing the 60's camp thriller DANGER: DIABOLIK. Other highlights included Maurice Chevalier in FOLIES-BERGERE, a fun B-movie with Gloria Stuart called WANTED: JANE TURNER, and Errol Flynn in SANTA FE TRAIL. My disappointments seemed few and far between this year, so I won't dwell on those this time. As far as recent films, it was a dry year for me. I didn't see many, and the few I genuinely liked included MYSTERIOUS SKIN, FANTASTIC FOUR, THE ARISTOCRATS, DOWNFALL, and SERENITY. CAPOTE and GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK had great acting but fell down in other areas. I haven't seen the new KING KONG yet but I have high hopes for it. The DVD release of the 1933 original was yet another wonderful package from Warner Home Video.

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