Tag Archives: howard hawks

XL Popcorn – Sergeant York

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 589/1007
Title: Sergeant York
Director: Howard Hawks
Year: 1941
Country: USA

Sergeant York is a weird landmark film when it comes to my crossing films off of the 1001 list. Not only is this the final film from 1941 that I had left to watch, but also this is the final Howard Hawks film. Hawks has 10 films on this list (including Red River, His Girl Friday and Only Angels Have Wings) and I have watched 7 of these in the last two years. Just one of those happy accidents I guess.

Some historical facts before I start. Sergeant York is a biographical film based on the life of Tennessee native Alvin York, a religious and pacifistic man who finds himself being drafted into the First World War. York only agreed to have this film be made so he could use his money to build the bible school of his dreams.

Oh, and this was a film with a profoundly anti-war feel that ended up becoming incredibly popular after the Pearl Harbour. This final bit feels incredibly salient. Whilst this film isn’t exactly frank about the horrors of war, there isn’t a single person that you come across that is completely settle with war.

Considering that this was coming out when they would need manpower for the Second World War I am surprised they didn’t actually go whole hog on the patriotism angle. I’m glad they didn’t as that’s ended up spoiling Mrs Miniver. Instead it’s the extreme religious angle that rankled me, but that’s who York was and I bet in real life he was far more overt than in this.

As a story of an individual Sergeant York feels utterly remarkable. By remarkable I mean I take a lot of his feats with a sizeable grain of salt. So much is made of his ability as a sharpshooter that actually seeing what he is meant to have been able to do feels like someone found a way to play Skyrim with the most forgiving auto-aim in gaming history. Then again, I know nothing about marksmanship so maybe he was just this fantastic.

Speaking of fantastic – full praise has to be given to Gary Cooper as Sergeant York himself. I know that, retroactively, some people think that Orsen Welles deserved the Best Actor award over Cooper… but I would wholeheartedly disagree. This is one of the few times where I have really gotten behind a Gary Cooper performance (I said performance, as I have always found him dashing). Yes, the other is his turn in High Noon

I came in expecting something schmaltzy and instead I got something that felt earnest, even if it had a slight propaganda tinge in the beginning of the third act. It’s worth a watch on a grey winter morning.

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XL Popcorn – Dracula (1958) / Scarface (1932)

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: Dracula
Director: Terence Fisher
Year: 1958
Country: UK

The 1001 list starts to get a bit confusing when they include two films using the same source material and the same title. I figured that with this pair of films I would get rid of two of these. Firstly, we have the Hammer Horror version of Dracula.

I have already seen the two versions of Dracula produced in 1931. Only the English language version with Bela Lugosi is on the 1001 list, I could not help but watch the slightly superior Spanish version that was produced in tandem. Compared to both 1931 versions I very much prefer this 1958 version with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. In fact, there is no contest.

I think many people tend to big up to 1931 version as the Bela Lugosi portrayal has become such an integral part of our culture. The thing is when you watch the 1931 version now all of the effects feel rather cheesy. Especially the plastic bat. At no point in this 1958 version do you feel they have had to resort to terrible special effects. In fact the entire production feels rather sumptuous.

What’s also interesting is how much more of a sexual being the Christopher Lee Dracula is. The idea of Dracula has always been sexual but this ramps it up compared to 1931. This is, regrettably, at the expense of keeping it creepy. So far I have yet to see a Dracula interpretation creepier than  Nosferatu from back in 1922.

What this film does have is tension. Christopher Lee actually feels dangerous as Count Dracula and Peter Cushing feels like a force to be reckoned with as Van Helsing. It feels more like a battle with a satisfying conclusion when compared to 1931 where it just feels like the studio ran out of money and needed a quick offscreen ending.

And so I have watched my first Hammer Horror film and I really enjoyed it. This is meant to be the best by far but I might have to track down their version of The Mummy as that is always good for a scare.

Title: Scarface
Director: Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson
Year: 1932
Country: USA

Quick preface: I have not seen the Brian De Palma Scarface film up, but I obviously know enough about it through pop culture as it is one of “those” films. Is interesting to note that whilst the 1932 version of Scarface provided a of the inspiration for the 1980s film of the same name they both turned out rather differently.

Scarface is a film with a very strong anti organized crime message. The moment that the film starts you are presented with screens talking about how the government has failed to stop the gangs. This message is later repeated partly through the film in what feels rather too didactic for my taste. I mean the film even has the subtitle “the shame of a nation”.

The thing is if this really was the message behind the film then it failed spectacularly. If Al Capone, upon his life this film is basically based on, liked it so much that he had his own print then you’ve clearly failed with an anti organized crime message. Similarly this film went on to be one of the key gangster films.

Then again the central idea of this film is that, in the end, gangsters will not win against the strong arm of the law. Where Tony Montana goes down in a blaze of glory, Tony Camonte dies a broken man. He loses everything because of his own hubris. I wonder if Al Capone ever got the irony of that when he was hauled up for tax evasion.

The most interesting thing about this film, however, was the timing. At the time producer Howard Hughes was already having trouble with censors over what they perceived as extreme violence (imagine their faces if they saw Al Pacino with that mountain of cocaine) and this was released before the Hays code came into effect. So much of what made this film interesting would have been lost. I mean how can you recreate the Saint Valentine’s day massacre under those conditions?

Interestingly this is the fourth Howard Hawks film that I have seen since my hand decided to be a little bitch. I now only have one of his films left in the 1001 list (he has 10 in total!) which is a world war one biographical film Sergeant York. I might have to wait on that for a while.

Progress: 564/1007

XL Popcorn – Jules and Jim / Red River

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: Jules and Jim (Jules et Jim)
Director: François Truffaut
Year: 1962
Country: France

Jules and Jim is one of those big French classics that I have been waiting to watch for a long time. I know that this is a phrase I mention quite often, this waiting to see a film rather than just see it when I can, but I have a fear that should I just watch the films I want to see then the final stretch of the 1001 list will become intolerable.

Previously I have seen it two other films by Francois Truffaut (“day for night” and Shoot the Piano Player) and those were a mixed bag for me. I know that Jules and Jim is up there as one of the best films of all time. Maybe it was the build up to this but I found this film disappointing.

One thing that I was able to appreciate is just how many films have taken elements from this. Most notably the narration which made me feel like I should watch Amelie again because it really has been a long time. I’ve also seen this film described as being an encyclopaedia of cinematic shots by combining tracking, dolly, freeze frame, archive and many other types of filming. It is true that this makes this film interesting watch, but I just could not get on board with the characters.

Being released in 1962 Jules and Jim was part of a creative explosion that was trying to get away from previous ways of shooting a film. Cleo from 5 to 7 was another example of this and I adored that film, mainly because of the very interesting central character. Catherine, on the other hand, is a character that really bothered me.

We are all agreed that the modern trope of the “manic pixie dream girl” needs to stop because she is not a realistic character. I would lump in Catherine is a rather cruel representation of a woman. Or maybe she is just meant to have some sort of mental troubles. It is hard to deny that possibility by the time the film reaches its conclusion.

I just felt rather sorry for Jules in all of this. He himself knows that no matter how badly Catherine treats him he will never leave her. I mean, he was happy to get divorced from Catherine and let her marry his best friend just so that she could still be in his life. I want to say it’s pathetic, but she lets him live in hope. It’s cruel.

I guess I just expected a whole lot more from this film. Especially how it ended as that did not feel like a logical course of action for the characters to take.

redriverTitle: Red River
Director: Howard Hawks
Year: 1948
Country: USA

When you take spaghetti westerns out of the equation Red River is one of those names that you see amongst the best westerns. Now, thanks to the 1001 list I have changed my mind about the western genre. Films like The Ox Bow Incident and Rio Bravo rank amongst some of my top films. However, western is a genre like any other meaning that you can’t like them all (hell, I would rate animation is my favourite type of film but I have sure seen some awful animated movies).

Red River has a lot to live up to seeing that it is directed by Howard Hawks (Rio Bravo, Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings and His Girl Friday”) and stars John Wayne, Walter Brennan (always adorable) and a stunning Montgomery Clift. I know that there’s a lot about this film that I should like, but it actually found it rather dull.

It’s one those films that I would expect Hank Hill from King of the Hill to rank highly on his list of favourites. It is a true man’s film with cowboys, guns, native Americans, aggression and the stupid posturing that can take place between a father and his adopted son. Considering all the crap everyone has to go through to finish the cattle drive that ending just felt a little bit weak. Scratch that, incredibly weak.

Like with Jules and Jim I think that I have missed the point somewhere along the line of watching this film. Or it was very possible that my own issues have clouded my view (like how I have no sympathy for Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler). Then again cinema allows for this subjectivity and that is what I love about it. I know that there’ll be people who think the idea of Red River being boring is akin to blasphemy, but I feel the same way about anyone who downplays the majesty of Sunset Boulevard.

Oh well at least it wasn’t harrowing in any way… that poor chicken in Pink Flamingos still haunts me.

Progress: 554/1007

XL Popcorn – To Have and Have Not / The Last Laugh

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: To Have and Have Not
Director: Howard Hawks
Year: 1944
Country: USA

Chemistry. It is often one of those intangible things that critics will praise a film for should it exist between cast members. No matter how accomplished the actors are it is hard to fake chemistry. For a masterclass in what this intangible looks like I would suggest you put on To Have and Have Not.

In many ways this film plays a lot like Casablanca, hell it even shares a few cast members and is primarily set in a bar of a French territory (at the time Vichy France). The main crux of the plot? The movement of revolutionaries without the authorities not getting wind of it. Therefore it is actually quite difficult to see this film as being entirely separate from the superior Casablanca.

Now, this is where the chemistry comes in. For a debut film Lauren Bacall is able to generate an amazing presence on screen. Then again looking like that and delivering the famous double entendre line, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow…”. Not only is her character Slim sex on legs, but she also has a steely determination, deep voice and intelligence. Add to that the sizzling chemistry between her and future husband (then married), just how was Bacall not going to be a star after this?

The thing is, unless you are interested in film history you might as well just watch Casablanca. Don’t get me wrong To Have and Have Not is a good watch, it is just that Casablanca is better.

the last laughTitle: The Last Laugh (Der letzte Mann)
Director: F. W. Murnau
Year: 1924
Country: Germany

In the weekend just gone we had a good friend stay with us and I showed him my favourite film of all time: Sunset Boulevard. It got me to thinking that it was time again for me to watch a silent movie. After all, there is still a good number of these left for me to see and I don’t want to leave them all to the end. I mean, that would just be annoying.

The silent film that I chose was the 1924 release  The Last Laugh (The Last Man in German). The director, F. W. Murnau, has the honor of having a film of his be one of the first winners of the Oscar for Best Picture in 1929. I thought a great deal of Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans and it has been an awfully long time since I last saw one of his pictures.

The Last Laugh is a very odd silent film as it features nearly no intertitles. In fact, aside from a letter being read by the main character there are only two intertitles in the entire film. If you’ve seen enough silent movies you will know just how unusual this is. This, however, was probably one of the great strengths of this film. It was only those three points where exposition was required. It shows a lot of trust in the audience to understand what’s going on and relies heavily on the actors being able to fully convey the required emotions and plot points.

The storyline of The Last Laugh appears to be as old as time itself. A man has spent his life working in a prestigious job for a prestigious company and, because of his increasing age, he is no longer able to fully do his job. It’s sad but the hotel has their hands tied behind their back when their tall man is no longer able to lift the luggage of their guests. Rather than forcing him to retire they created position as a bathroom attendant to make sure that he is still able to earn a wage.

It breaks your heart when you see him being told about his reassignment. It is also completely understandable that his pride is so wounded that he is able to tell anyone about his demotion. You can guess what happens next. That is why the English title makes more sense than the German title. In the end, when everyone has seemingly deserted and mocked him he is able to get the last laugh.

It is in this last laugh where the second of the two intertitles comes into play. The writer and/or director intervened to make sure that this old man does not lose all hope and seemingly rot away in this job he hates. They tell the audience that, unlike society, they will not abandon him and so give him a happy ending. It makes for a sweet, if unlikely, ending.

Like with all good silent movies The Last Laugh just shows how much can be conveyed without dialogue. I still unquestionably prefer talkies over silents, but it just reminds me to not doubt the power that they can still hold nearly 100 years later.

Progress: 552/1007

XL Popcorn – Only Angels Have Wings / Gabbeh

Two weeks later and this is no longer a wrist problem, but my whole right arm and shoulder. The dictated reviews shall continue on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Only Angels Have Wings
Director: Howard Hawks
Year: 1939
Country: USA

The has been a long run of films now and in this post I will have reached 40 since my right arm decided not to cooperate. There it is not much else I can do with one arm completely out of action and my left wrist tiring from the extra work.

The reason that I watched Only Angels Have Wings was because I fancied an old black and white gangster film. I realise now that the film I was thinking of was Angels With Dirty Faces. Oh well, I always enjoy a good Howard Hawks film and this was definitely no exception to that. And no that’s not just because Golden Age cinema hunkcicle Cary Grant is in it.

It is rare to see a film about pilots that is all about professionalism and not about machismo. It is because of this machismo that I have yet to see Top Gun. This is what I really appreciated about Only Angels Have Wings. Sure, there is a lot of masculine energy amongst the airline’s pilots but this never gets in the way of their work. There are no petty rivalries as they are essentially a brotherhood. It is refreshing to see a film about pilots that does not resort to this.

Instead the tension comes in the form of a new pilot whose actions caused the death of another pilot’s brother. Also he has arrived with his wife (a very early film appearance from Rita Hayworth) who happens to be an old flame of the airline’s owner (Cary Grant). Hawks never overplays any of this and instead allows it to feel like an organic parts of the everyday life. The only major reaction we get it from Kid (Thomas Mitchell) when he decks the pilot caused his brother’s death.

I guess that the two watchwords of this film would be fatalism and subtlety. Two things that love interest Bonnie (Jean Arthur) can find it hard to deal with. As the mistress of screwball comedy Jean Arthur is able to summon comic relief when she’s paired up with Cary Grant. There are times when this is needed as death is never too far from the minds of the audience and the characters.

It’s strange to think that this is the same man that directed Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Bringing Up Baby. That man sure had range.

Title: Gabbeh
Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Year: 1996
Country: Iran

It was never going to be long before I found my way back to the world of Iranian cinema. Gabbeh is very unlike the other three Iranian films as I’ve seen in the last few weeks… or ever for that matter. Where the other three were very much in the realm of real life but this was a bit of a left turn.

When hub asked me to describe this film the phrase that I used was: a confusingly beautiful Iranian folktale… where a girl magically appears from a rug. Now on one level it feels like that description is doing it a bit of a disservice. However, it is very hard to mentally unpack what I saw. It would have been easier without the very confusing high pitched old man (if you have seen the film you’ll know who I mean).

In a nutshell, this film appears to be an old couple telling the story depicted in their gabbeh (a type of Iranian rug with a thick weave). In order to help with the storytelling it “comes to life” in the form of a startlingly beautiful young woman in vibrant blue clothing. This would not explain the lessons about colour that we see in the first 20 minutes or how a hen’s egg was magically concocted, but I’m gonna let that slide.

The film in its entirety is dreamy. We go between fact and fiction, dreams and reality, past or future and many other opposing ideas. When the film ends you’re left with many questions about what you just saw. Not in the least about why this old man started beating his rug in a rage and goes on about how he got apples for it. It links to a point where the woman walks off when he says how he never had children… but I just wonder if the entire thing is in the head of this dotty old man who just happened to have a lot of beautiful rugs and some livestock. Or did he actually have a wife and she’s funny just up and left him? I haven’t got the foggiest and I think I might have to watch it again a few years just to see how my interpretation changes.

A very bizarre film. Especially considering that this director created some realistic films depicting poverty back in the eighties. Films that resulted in the bizarre court case depicted in the Abbas Kiarostami film Close-Up. Yes, this is the same man that the con artist pretended to be. Pretty cool, eh?

Progress: 510/1007

XL Popcorn – His Girl Friday

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 439/1007Title: His Girl Friday
Director: Howard Hawks
Year: 1940
Country: USA

(I thought I would be able to write this whilst half-watching the 1973 film adaptation of Charlotte’s Webbut they’ve butchered it so much and inserted so many crappy songs that I got rather distracted by my anger… seriously what did they do to this story.)

If you have seen a number of screwball comedies then when you watch your next one you will know that there will be a wedding between the two main characters. It’s one of those cinematic inevitabilities that is so templated that half the fun of watching a screwball comedy is how they will get there in the end.

With Howard Hawks at the helm as director (who previously directed the screwball classic Bringing Up Baby) you know that you are going to get a quality film. The fact that he would later go on to direct The Big Sleep, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Rio Bravo (one of my favourite films) just speaks to his range.

Speaking of range – Cary Grant. As much as I enjoyed Rosalind Russell and the quick banter she enjoyed with the leading man, he just steals every scene he was in. I mean he was the only thing that made She Done Him Wrong even slightly watchable. When given a sharp, funny, rapid fire script… well he is just amazing (not Suspicion or Philidelphia Story amazing but still amazing).

The one issue with this film – is that it’s a profoundly unbelievable turn of events. But who the hell cares. It’s an enjoyable ride.

XL Popcorn – The Big Sleep & Gaslight

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 428/1007

I am writing this the day after staying up all night so I could watch the Oscars so please excuse me for the brevity of this post. I write this now to make sure I can properly recall both films that I watched with my mum after what is becoming our yearly tradition of staying up to watch the Oscars, sleeping a few hours and then a movie double bill.

bsopeningsmokingTitle: The Big Sleep
Director: Howard Hawks
Year: 1946
Country: USA

There are a lot of noir films in her collection so we started off with The Big Sleep, a noir mystery starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. I felt that I had to see this movie since she featured in the In Memoriam section and I don’t think I have seen a film with her in it other than Dogville. 

The Big Sleep can be summarised in two words: confusing and tangential. I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep (although later reading about this film I doubt it) but I had to keep the Wikipedia synopsis of the film open to make sure that I knew what was actually going on. I know it makes me sound a little bit simple but when you have a conspiracy with so many names it can be hard to keep track. I go for tangential as my other word since some of the sequences involved feel like there are some logical leaps that would have been better explained in the book.

I am by no means detracting from the performances in this. Humphrey Bogart, as always, delivers on his role of the manly male interest (who can not get away with playing the role of 10 years his junior). However, the real show-stealer is Martha Vickers as Lauren Bacall’s sister. Whenever she appears on the screen she has your complete and undivided attention. Reading how her role was cut down to allow Bacall to shine a bit more… and then she basically had no career afterwards… makes me angry.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Quiche Lorraine

So, between our films we took a lunch break and, in honour of my new list, we got a Quiche Lorraine from over the road and had a leisurely lunch with some salad. Sometimes, all you need is a bit of quiche.

gaslight_ingrid_bergman2Title: Gaslight
Director: George Cukor
Year: 1944
Country: USA

The other movie in our double bill was Gaslight, the film where Ingrid Bergman won the first of her three Academy Awards. Watching this, I can see where the win came from (she beat Barbara Stanwyck for her role in Double Indemnity, some people see this as a snub but I am inclined to agree with the Academy on this one). Her role of a woman being psychologically tortured and broken down by her husband to the point that she feels that she be committed to an asylum is truly affecting (something which has come to be known as ‘gaslighting’).

In a previous post I talked about how the Hayes Code can be annoying because you know that anti-heroes in films like Gun Crazy are going to die or get caught. The opposite is true here, thanks to the code I knew the bastard husband (very well played by Charles Boyer to the point I did not recognise him from Madame De…) was going to get his comeuppance, so I felt free to keep rooting for that to happen. When it does, that is when you see Ingrid Bergman in her Oscar reel with her turning the psychological torture tables. A completely gripping 4 minutes.

Also of note in this film is that it marked the cinematic debut of Angela Lansbury playing a rather uncouth housemaid. Weird to think that 50 years later she would be the voice of Mrs Potts in Beauty and the Beast.

IMG_1255[1]Food item: Hot and Cold Smoked Salmon

I could have made this a separate post, but this provided me with the second half of this food item (the first being covered in a previous post).

Progress: 443/933