It's that making-lists time of the year again. So here are the ten best classic movies I saw in 2018. They’re listed in order of year of release. I’m not even going to try to rank them. I”m not even going to claim they’e all great movies. They’re just the ten movies I enjoyed most in the past year.
Here they are, with links to my reviews.
Charlie Chan’s Secret (Gordon Wiles, 1936)
First Love (Henry Koster, 1939)
The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1946)
Act of Violence (Fred Zinnemann, 1948)
Too Late for Tears (Byron Haskin, 1949)
The Desert Hawk (Frederick De Cordova, 1950)
The Woman in Question (Anthony Asquith, 1950)
Rogue Cop (Roy Rowland, 1954)
Dames Don't Care (Bernard Borderie, 1954)
Timetable (Mark Stevens, 1956)
A motley collection covering quite a few genres. There's quite a bit of film noir, an adventure flick and a musical.
Friday, December 28, 2018
It starts with a dramatic courtroom scene. A hoodlum is sentenced to death, on Charlie’s evidence, vows revenge and shoots his way out of the courtroom after seizing a deputy’s gun.
Steve McBirney (Marc Lawrence) is the hoodlum in question and he doesn’t do what the police expect him to do. He doesn’t try to leave the city. Instead he takes refuge in the wax museum of Dr Cream (C. Henry Gordon). Dr Cream had another profession before opening his wax museum - he was a plastic surgeon and apparently a very good one. He also apparently did quite a few surgery jobs for members of the underworld, giving them new faces. Now McBirney wants Dr Cream to give him a new face as well.
That old case was particularly convoluted. Two partners in crime who were also partners with a third man (an honest man) in a perfectly legitimate business. There was jealousy and murder, and a revenge killing, but Chan has doubts about pretty much the entirety of the established story.
As you would expect from a movie with a wax museum theme this entry in the Chan cycle has a bit of a gothic tinge to it. The wax museum is not just an ordinary wax museum. It is a museum of crime, devoted entirely to gruesome and brutal murders. And of course whenever the action switches to the wax museum there seems to be a thunderstorm raging (which adds a slight Old Dark House feel).
This is a movie that is visually fairly impressive by B-movie standards. The wax museum is genuinely creepy, the sets are very good, there are some fun props (such as the mechanical chess player automaton). Director Lynn Shores keeps things lively and interesting.
Sidney Toler as always plays Chan with a charming twinkle in his eye. As usual Victor Sen Young provides comic relief as Chan’s son Jimmy, an enthusiastic but not always effective amateur detective. By the standards of comic relief characters he’s not too bad since unlike most comic relief characters he’s not entirely a fool or a halfwit. He has intelligence but he lacks judgment and experience.
Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum has a decent mystery, it has some mild thrills, it has effective atmosphere. The comic relief is kept to a minimum and is non-irritating. It’s best not to think too much about the plot, but that’s OK because this is the kind of movie that exists in a universe in which the villains come up with insanely complicated criminal plots that would never work in real life. But this is not real life and it’s not meant to be. The world of Charlie Chan movies is in most respects preferable to real life anyway.
Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum is a satisfying little B-picture. Highly recommended.
Tuesday, December 25, 2018
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
It is very loosely a sequel to Here Comes Mr Jordan. Very very loosely. Down to Earth in turn apparently inspired the 1980 movie Xanadu (although I’ve never seen Xanadu so I don’t know how much of a connection there really is).
Here Comes Mr Jordan (based on the play Heaven Can Wait) deals with guardian angels and could rather tenuously be regarded be regarded as dealing with vaguely Christian themes. Throwing in pagan goddesses could be considered to be a daring move, or a foolhardy move (or possibly even blasphemous!) but audiences were used to Hollywood’s propensity for hopelessly jumbling up every subject it touched. It does make the plot completely absurd but it’s pretty absurd to begin with. Of course musicals have no need whatever for coherent plots so really it doesn’t matter at all.
Terpsichore manages, with great ease, to convince the show’s producer and star Danny Miller to cast her in the lead, as Terpsichore. She renames herself Kitty Pendleton and acquires kindly rather scatter-brained low-rent agent Max Corkle (James Gleason).
Terpsichore also arouses the hostility of Danny’s buddy and co-star Eddie (Marc Platt) although I must confess I have no idea why except that presumably it was felt that this hostility would add some spice to the story.
The songs are not all that fantastic. At best they’re adequate.
I’m not quite sure about Larry Parks. He’s not terrible, he’s an adequate enough leading man, he just doesn’t seem to have any real charisma. The chemistry with Hayworth is perhaps not all it could be.
Roland Culver takes over the rôle of Mr Jordan (played by Claude Rains in Here Comes Mr Jordan) and he does a fine job. Edward Everett Horton adds some fun (as he invariably does) as the ever-pessimistic heavenly messenger 7013.
The one massive selling point of this movie is Rita Hayworth. She looks gorgeous and her performance sparkles. She gets to do plenty of dancing and she gets to do some actual acting and she does both with style.
Down to Earth does at times get a bit ambitious, venturing into the dangerous waters of satire. It tries, in a low-key way, to satirise the vulgarity of popular culture and also the pomposity of high culture. Of course since it’s a Hollywood movie we’re never going to doubt that it will come down solidly on the side of enjoyable vulgarity.
The Region 4 DVD which I have is barebones but it’s a nice transfer with vibrant colours.
Down to Earth would have benefited from slightly better songs but overall it’s a fine effort with a touching love story and with Rita Hayworth in fine form. Harmless, lightweight but entertaining. Recommended.
Monday, December 10, 2018
It has a crackerjack opening. A very ordinary couple, Jane and Alan Palmer (Lizabeth Scott and Arthur Kennedy), are driving on a lonely country road. A car passes them and something is thrown the back seat of the Palmers’ car. That something is a bag. Inside the bag is money. Lots and lots of money.
Apart from being totally illegal it should be obvious that it would be incredibly stupid even to consider the idea of keeping the money. But that is what Jane Palmer intends to do. The idea of turning the money over to the police never even occurs to her.
Alan thinks they should turn the money over to the police. Jane convinces him that they should just hold on to it for a little while. They won’t spend it and of course eventually they’ll give it to the police but surely it won’t do any harm to hide it away somewhere for a for weeks. Just to know it’s there. It’s an obviously crazy idea but Alan gives in, because there’s no point in doing anything else where Jane is concerned. She’s the kind of woman who always gets her way.
Things start to get worrying when Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea) turns up on the doorstep. He informs Jane that the money us his and he’d like it back.
Things get further complicated by a little matter of murder but that’s not the sort of thing to worry Jane. What does worry her is her sister-in-law Kathy (Kristine Miller). Kathy never approved of Jane and now she’s becoming suspicious that something is going on. Alan’s old army buddy Don Blake has also turned up at a very inconvenient moment.
Things are awkward enough but then the money kind of gets misplaced. Or at least the baggage check ticket gets misplaced and without that ticket getting the money will be a challenge.
Lizabeth Scott is in dazzling form. She’s obsessed and she’s scary and she’s frighteningly manipulative. The worst thing about her is that she never gives up. She intends to have that money and she will destroy herself and everyone else around her to get it.
Dan Duryea is of course excellent in a slightly uncharacteristic rôle - right from the start Jane is in the one calling the shots and Danny just has to go along.
So is Jane a femme fatale? In a way she is. Even though Danny is already a criminal he’s not thoroughly evil but Jane will lead him into doing much worse things than he’s ever done before.
But them maybe film noir is mostly a matter of mood and if that’s true then Too Late For Tears qualifies without any problems.
This movie is in the public domain and some of the DVD editions out there are pretty bad. The one I saw was terrible. There is a fully restored Blu-Ray edition but alas it’s way out of my price range. If you’re independently wealthy the restored edition is probably worthwhile. It’s certainly a good enough movie to justify a Blu-Ray release and as soon as I win the lottery I’ll be grabbing the Blu-Ray.
Too Late for Tears is a superb B noir. Highly recommended.
Monday, December 3, 2018
In the 1880s Allan Quatermain (Stewart Granger) is a celebrated hunter and safari leader. Quatermain is growing tired of it all, tired of the butchery of animals, tired of the people he has to take on safari, tired of Africa and tired of himself. He is tempted to give it all up and return to England. When he is approached by Mrs Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) and her brother John Goode (Richard Carlson) to lead a safari to find Mrs Curtis’s missing husband he is not interested at all. He tells her he wouldn’t take on the job even for five hundred pounds. She then offers him five thousand pounds. He takes the job.
Her husband had been searching for a fabulous diamond mine reputed to be located in an unexplored part of Africa. He was sold a map showing the location of the mine. In fact many Europeans have been sold such maps and set off in search of riches beyond counting. Few of those Europeans have returned alive.
There’s also, naturally, romance. Allan Quatermain and Elizabeth Curtis hate each other at first sight, so we know there’s going to be a powerful attraction between them. Granger and Kerr handle this romance element very effectively. They have an unlikely chemistry but somehow it works.
Deborah Kerr does a fine job as well. Hugo Haas is very good as the villainous Van Brun.
During the course of the expedition Quatermain and his party are joined by Umbopa. No-one knows where Umbopa comes from or why he wants to join the expedition. He does however have a knack for making himself useful and while Quatermain isn’t quite sure whether to trust him or not he decides that it might be safer to have Umbopa with them rather than against them.
There’s some great location shooting. The movie was shot in Technicolor and it looks fabulous.
Haggard’s 1885 novel King Solomon’s Mines is one of the great adventure tales of all time. This movie certainly makes some significant changes to the plot. Hollywood obviously wanted a love story as well as an adventure story, which would probably have appalled Haggard.
1937 film adaptation is not without interest. It’s quite highly regarded although it’s also not overly faithful to the book and for my money the 1950 version is better.
I saw this film on cable TV so I can’t offer any opinions on the Region 1 DVD (which seems to be the only DVD edition).
The 1950 King Solomon’s Mines was made by MGM and it’s very much a big-budget A-picture with a consciously epic feel to it. It succeeds pretty well. Recommended.