Movie Review: “The Great Race” (1965)

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I mentioned this back in my “Duel Of The Sun” review, but I find the concept of the “epic” genre  fascinating. They don’t make movies like an epic anymore. There might be some films that have a grand scale, like “The Lord Of The Rings” films, but because it’s all a fantasy and not based on historical events, something just doesn’t quite feel right.

What makes an epic movie is not just the scale or the enormous cast of characters or cast of thousands, but that the film is also a depiction of our past. A point in history where the lives of millions of people are affected and the course of humanity is forever changed. It is why films like “Lawrence Of Arabia,” “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur” are the first movies often mentioned when thinking of an epic.

But what about epic films of a different genre? Can epics only be limited to action pieces or drama?

While it is rare to see an epic step outside of these boundaries, there are  a few that exist beyond that realm. One such film is Blake Edwards’ epic comedy, “The Great Race,” that chronicles the 1908 Great American Car Race from New York to Paris. While the film takes great liberties with historical events, it is all in the name of comedy, according to Edwards. Though the film does have some unbelievably funny moments, due to some wonderful comedic acting, there is part of me that feels a bit weirded out by the films perspective and way of conveying comedy.

The world is taken aback by the famous stuntman, the daring, dashing, smooth and proper, the Great Leslie (Tony Curtis), as he performs acts these amazing feats of bravery, always coming out clean and handsome. But it seems all the attention Leslie has garnered has attracted another person who wants the spotlight, the cold, calculating, uncaring, wise and incompetent, Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon). Their constant need to out-do one another has created a rivalry that promises to end in disaster, especially for Fate.

When Leslie offers to show the true power and strength of an American automobile by conducting a race around the world, Professor Fate vows to enter the competition with his own car and finally defeat Leslie once and for all. Things become even more complicated when a female driver enters the race, Maggie DuBois (Natalie Wood), to prove that a woman can do anything a man can do, and fights for the affection of the Great Leslie.

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So, based on the plot description, could you tell what I might find strange about this film? If not, then let me describe Leslie and Professor Fate in more detail. Leslie is perfect in every conceivable way. He always wins, gets the last word, he is smooth with the ladies, always finds the easiest way to outsmart the villain and succeeds with flying colors. Fate is always scheming, trying to find a way to get rid of Leslie, wants the world to see how great he is, but is always outdone by his own stupidity.

Do you get it now? This is the same relationship between Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are, for all intents-and-purposes, playing live action versions of their Looney Tune counterparts.

I have no idea if this was intentional or not. I know that Blake Edwards was trying to pay homage to silent cinema, with all the slapstick, outrageous and over the top characters, parodies of other genres and the tribute to Laurel and Hardy. But I feel this film owes more to the Looney Tunes than it does silent cinema.

Professor Fate and his sidekick Max (Peter Falk) are able to survive a lot of outlandish crashes, explosions and mishaps with nothing more than a few scratches or bruises. They have their garage blow up on them twice and are ready for the race the next day. They are launched over a mile into the air by a rocket and come down in on a farm and just walk it off. If that isn’t cartoon logic, I don’t know what is.

During the famous pie fight sequence, Leslie is a spectator throughout the entire festive brawl, yet is able to avoid getting hit by a pie with just a simple turning of the body. Just like Bug Bunny, he never gets hurt and laughs off competition with little more than a smile.

If “The Great Race” were paying homage to the Looney Tunes, then I would see nothing wrong with this. But because Leslie and Fate’s personalities are so much like Bugs and Daffy, it is hard to imagine these characters as nothing more than their cartoon counterparts. Thus, they feel more like caricatures instead of characters.

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The only time the film strays from this is when they take a break from the race and have the caricatures do something else, such as prevent a rebellion in a smile European nation ruled by a monarch who happens to look like Professor Fate (also played by Jack Lemmon).

These segments do not do the movie any favors. While they do add a variety of comedy and help build up the world of this film, these scenes are so far removed from the racing sequences that its hard to care about any of these new characters introduced two-thirds of the way through the film.

“The Great Race” is at its strongest when they focus on the racing and the continued rivalry between Leslie and Fate. When it tries to do anything else, like trying to replace the monarch with Professor Fate, the film loses my interests fast.

However, the film does contain many solid slapstick sequences, especially in the beginning when Professor Fate attempts to sabotage Leslie’s stunts. As much as his plans resemble that of Daffy Duck or Wile E. Coyote, they are still fun to watch as they backfire stupendous. To see his missile, designed to attack the loudest engine, go for Leslie’s speedboat, only to turn around when Fate starts up the engine of his broken down automobile, does get a good chuckle out of me.

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Which is why I have such mixed feelings about “The Great Race.” While I am uncertain about the parallels between the films’ main characters and the Looney Tunes, there are plenty of well-timed jokes and some great comedic acting from Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.

I will think of “The Great Race” as a two and a half-hour long episode of the Looney Tunes, only on a grander scale. From locations all across the world, to understanding the tension for women’s rights in the 1900s, to the constant struggle to find out which nation builds the best automobile, the sense of time and scope is massive.

Though the film may drag at points, “The Great Race” was an enjoyable ride that offers a different kind of epic that can be appreciated and respected for the size and absurdity of the comedy. Unlike its other epic counterparts, this film is about cramming as many laughs and pies as possible into the audiences’ face.

Final Grade: B-

Movie Review: “Jason And The Argonauts” (1963)

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It should be known that I’ve only before watched one other Ray Harryhausen film, “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.” It did not go well.

While I do believe that Harryhausen’s effects were the best part of that particular movie, it certainly was not enough to save it from being a bad movie. The story was forgettable, the characters were laughable and the pacing was all over the place. So while I do not blame Harryhausen for what made the film unbearable, it was still a painful monster movie to watch at times.

Yet, I could still understand the genius behind what Ray Harryhausen did in the film. While stop-motion animation existed long before he did, Harryhausen took it to an entirely different level by creating detailed and intricate creatures which moved with their own breath and heart beat.

This is why I believe “Jason And The Argonauts” is often called Harryhausen’s best work. In earlier films, you get one or two creatures with this beautiful animation, but in “Jason” you get no fewer than four distinctly diverse monsters, each with their own movement and sequence.

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During the time of the Greek Gods, the greedy Pelias attacks the city of Thessaly, kills King Aristo, and takes it for himself. This angers Zeus and his wife, Hera, because Pelias goes against the orders of the gods and kills an innocent woman in Hera’s temple. Out of this, a prophecy is born, where the child of Aristo would be the one to rise up and kill Pelias.

Twenty years later, the only remaining child of Aristo, Jason (Todd Armstrong), has now reached manhood and intends to get his kingdom back from Pelias by obtaining the Golden Fleece from the far off land of Colchis, at the end of the world. After an meet with Zeus and Hera, Jason promises to get the Fleece his own way, but praises the gods for their generosity.

And so, Jason assembles the strongest and bravest men in Greece to join him on his journey to the end of the world, where they face many threats, including some from within his own crew.

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Like with “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” the special effects work in this film is the real highlight. There are so many sequences that stick out in my mind, and each one has a difference in size and scope.

Some are compact and tight-fisted, like the battle with the Harpies or the sword-wielding skeletons. While others are massive and must quick thinking over brawn, like the copper statue of Talos or crossing the chasm of the Clashing Rocks, only to be saved by the sea-god, Triton.

The struggle against Talos sticks out to me more than most others, because of how Talos moves and his appearance. I say Talos is made of copper, because he appears brown and shiny on some surfaces, but is rusted and green on others, much like the Statue of Liberty. Talos is not some creature with an armor coating, but a statue given life and acts so. He is massive, impenetrable, dense and uncaring.

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Each of these sequences gives the movie character and adds to this world of gods and monsters. The diversity is what makes the film worth watching over and over.

However, if “Jason And The Argonauts” falters on anything, it would be the lack of development for characters and story. We get some story in the beginning of the film, but only enough to set up the basics: Jason is pissed off at Pelias and wants to get his kingdom back, so he’ll get the Fleece to do just that.

Everything else is an excuse to lead into the next action sequence, as Jason and his crew travel across the world and meet many dangerous obstacles along the way. After awhile, it becomes predictable and makes the non-action sequences forgettable and not worthy mentioning.

This gets even worse when few of the Argonauts have any sort of character. We hardly learn the names of any of these brave and fearless warriors, let alone what the offer to the group. The only ones we do learn about are quickly abandoned in the story, like Hercules and the young intelligent man that he befriends. While their bonding is nice to see, we only get a scene or two of that before the film focuses on other aspects.

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Which is rather disappointing, since the scene where Jason holds a contest to see who gets to sail with him was an enjoyable sequence, with a wide ranger of characters showing of their unique talents and how cocky they were because of their skills. It shows there was a chance for good characterization in this film, but it was forgotten in favor of other aspects.

In the end though, I got a similar feeling from “Jason And The Argonauts” as I did from a good Godzilla film: A film that takes itself rather seriously, but still has a good sense of adventure and fun. It is not afraid to pull any punches, but it knows that people are here to see some exciting action sequences and delivers on that.

For what “Jason And The Argonauts” does with its monster and sword sequences, the film excels, with wonderful work by Ray Harryhausen and a fitting score by Bernard Herrmann (composer of “Vertigo” and “Psycho”) that amplifies the tension and direness to many fights. The problem comes with just about everything else being lackluster or forgotten. The film is fun to watch for its towering Talos statue or skeleton sword fight, but don’t expect that level of excitement throughout the entire movie.

Final Grade: B

Movie Reviews: "The Green Slime" (1968)



It is always fascinating to see two entirely different nationalities work together on a film. While it shows the love of cinema knows no bounds, there is always the problem of the language barrier during production.
This is especially the case with the Japanese, as their films are more about subtlety and being somber than anything else. So when you combine them with the over the top action-packed Americans, something is bound to get lost in translation. 
Take for example the little-known film “The Green Slime,” which was produced by an American studio and stars American actors, but was filmed entirely in a Japanese studio with several key filmmakers being Japanese. Most notably being the director, Kinji Fukasaku. 
Fukasaku had a long and outstanding career in both Japan and America. In his native land, he directed in several genres, most notably the Yakuza genre (Japanese Gangster) from the 1960s through the 2000s, creating films such as “The Graveyard Of Honor,” “Under The Flag Of The Rising Sun,” and “Battle Royale.”


This consistently got the attention of American filmmakers, as they kept asking for his services. His most notable work in America would be directing the Japanese segments of “Tora! Tora! Tora!” A job that was originally given to famed director Akira Kurosawa, but he turned down due to creative differences. 
I like to think of Fukasaku as the Japanese equivalent of Martin Scorsese. He is always willing to give any type of film a shot, and wants to touch all sorts of genres, even the less desirable ones. Yet he always finds a way to add a creative edge to his work that makes his films worth watching.
In the not too distant future, humans live peacefully and have advanced so far in technology that scientists aboard the most advanced satellite have run out of things to do. That changes when a giant meteorite is heading towards Earth and we only have a day before it destroys everything. 
Without going through an elaborate plan to send miners to blow up the meteor like in “Armageddon,” the government quickly sends a team of astronauts to dispatch the meteor. What they find on the surface of the meteor might be just as dangerous. 


What I noticed most about this work was how it felt exactly like the work of an Ishiro Honda daikaiju film. Honda’s films, most notably the Godzilla films, had elaborate sets, expansive miniatures, carried themes of unity through the nations yet still had a fear of the beyond the stars. 
All of that is present in “The Green Slime.” Even more so, it seems like pieces and sets were taken directly from Honda films. The first third of the film revolves around stopping the meteor, something that Honda did with one of his more somber and quiet pieces, “Gorath.” 
The monsters in this film start out at a microscopic level and consume anything they touch. This is also similar to “The H-Man” or even “Matango,” both films directed by Ishiro Honda. 
Even the set of the meteor looks similar to a slightly colored version of the Planet X set from “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero.” 




Perhaps I’m reading too much into it and noticing similarities that are merely coincidences. The way I see it, this is not an attempt to rip off the works of Ishiro Honda, but to praise them. 
The movie never attempts to parody these situations or ridicule the work of other Japanese filmmakers. There is an air of competence throughout the film, always taking everything seriously, even down to the scientific explanation of how these alien creatures can grow. 
As such, “The Green Slime” comes across like a tribute to the kaiju films of the past and all the zany situations that come from them. It is fun, even if a little silly at times, but never so much that it becomes cheesy. The actors are competent in their performances even if the story is straight forward. 


If you like science fiction or Japanese films, give this one a shot. If you couldn’t get into the Godzilla films or think something like this is overdone, then this isn’t for you. 
Final Grade: C+

Movie Review: "The Thin Man" (1934)



There are many different types of effective mysteries. From the straightforward detective mystery like “The Maltese Falcon” to the dark and disturbing thriller mysteries such as “Seven” and even film noirs like “Double Indemnity” that meet these two somewhere in the middle.
One of the more unappreciated and often overlooked types of mystery is the comedic mystery. Intriguing and thought-provoking films that will often make you laugh as much as they thrill you. Ones filled with characters that are often far different from the normal crowd of detectives and crooks. Mysteries that aren’t so much about solving the crime as much as they are about having a good and memorable time. 
One of the crowning achievements of this genre is “The Thin Man.” While the setup of finding out the truth of a man being accused of a string of murders is compelling in its own right, the film truly shines when it follows its lead characters, the sleuth-hunter couple of Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy). Remove these two from the film and all the charm and grace of this film is gone.
The film follows Nick Charles (Powell), a retired detective who now spends his days being a socialite, spending his wife’s money and enjoying a good martini. But when an old friend is convicted of murder and everyone on the police force begs Nick to take the case, as he is the one best suited to crack the code, he contemplates aiding the issue but no further. It isn’t until Nora (Loy) steps in, excited at the prospect of something different in life, and persuades Nick to found out the truth about this thin man. 

To be honest, the detective work and actual mystery is rather forgetful. Many clues and hints are lost due to all the comedic moments and character development. That is where the film also draws its strength. I can’t think of many mysteries where the characters feel like regular people instead of emotionless detectives or blabbering culprits. 
The interplay between Nick and Nora, as well as the other characters, is what make drives the film. From the first moment they share together on screen, where Nick is drunk and badgers Nora to join him, you can tell they have a long history together. That they care for one another but still poke fun at each other, such as Nick’s need to continue his detective work and Nora’s want for more out of life. 


This relationship grows even deeper when more characters are thrown into the mix and they are given a chance to shine. There’s a scene about halfway through the film, where the couple are throwing a party and the family of the suspected murderer come to visit them individually, unaware that the other family members are also at the party. Nick has to keep juggling back and forth between the grieving daughter, the greedy ex-wife and the murder-obsessed son, while also maintaining the party. It is handled just the right way, without being too over-the-top or silly yet still funny. 
The crowning moment of “The Thin Man” comes at the end, where they throw the classic dinner party with all the suspects attending, in an attempt to find out who the murderer is. This scene may seem cliche nowadays, but it works for this film because of the friendly environment and Nicks’ social manner. Made even more enjoyable by the waiters of the party being cops in disguise. Watching these guys serve food as if they’re doing a good cop-bad cop routine is so amusing. 
Overall, “The Thin Man” is a much different kind of mystery than you’d expect. If you want a thought-provoking and intriguing mystery with many clues and red herrings, then this isn’t it. If you want a good time with likable and interesting characters who aren’t afraid to make a joke occasionally and have a bit of mystery thrown in as well, then you’ll certainly enjoy “The Thin Man.”


Final Grade: B+

Movie Review: "The Phantom Of The Opera" (1925)

How many well executed elements does it take for a movie to become more than just good? Can it really take just one fantastic performance from a wonderful actor for the film to transcend so many other ones that came before it? 
I believe the answer is no.
I’ve always felt that truly great cinema always has more than one element that makes it worth watching. For example, when I wrote my review of “The Passion Of The Joan Of Arc,” it lead to an interesting discussion about the film and silent cinema where I realized that Maria Falconetti, who played Joan of Arc, did give a performance that changed how acting was pursued from that point on. Yet, even with this revelation, I still couldn’t bring myself to say the film does anything for me. “The Passion Of The Joan Of Arc” may have a revolutionary performance, but that’s about it. That’s not enough for me to recommend the movie to others.
We have another beloved silent film from the 1920s that falls into the same category, “The Phantom Of The Opera.” I can understand why this would be so well received upon its release and could continue to entertain audiences even today, through the makeup and performance of Lon Chaney, also known as “The Man Of A Thousand Faces.” The problem is that once the initial affect of Chaney and his sunken-in eyes and massive jaw have faded away, the film doesn’t have much to offer.


I think most people are aware of the story of the Phantom (Lon Chaney), of a man who was once a great composer and intellect yet became badly scared and was rejected by society, forced to live underground and hide within the catacombs of the opera house.
One day though, the Phantom discovers a new talent of the play, Christine (Mary Philbin), and is smitten by her. He begins to send cryptic and angry messages to the directors, saying to give Christine larger roles or else terrible fates will befall them. As Christine’s fame begins to soar, the Phantom makes his presence known to her and wishes to make her the greatest star in the world, if she promises to accept him as her master.
First off, the performance of Lon Chaney is wonderful. He did his own make-up and design for the Phantom, and it works to keep him intimidating yet mysterious. I can understand why his face in this film has translated to one of the most iconic images of horror. It is a difficult face to forget and the moment of his eventual reveal is suspenseful and perfectly paced.


Also, I enjoy the use of color filters used throughout the film. As you can tell, this is a silent film but it takes full advantage of using filters to add atmosphere and tone to many of the scenes. The brightly lit opera house has a yellow filter, while the dark torture chambers deep below Paris are a dark purple. Though it is strange during the giant party when everything is in proper color, only to go back to filters once the scene is over.
However, outside of those elements, I couldn’t find myself getting drawn into the film. The story is rather unremarkable and the characters, outside of the Phantom, don’t have much going for them. Christine is mostly reduced to playing the damsel in distress, while her boyfriend Raoul is merely set on saving her. Many of the scenes that lack the Phantom just leave me wanting to see more of the only interesting character.
So while Lon Chaney is the vehicle that drives the greatness of the 1925 version of “The Phantom Of The Opera,” it is honestly not enough for me. A great performance and make-up can only take a film so far, especially when the remaining story and characters fail to pull their own weight. 
If you enjoy the story of the Phantom, really like great make-up or are interested in learning more about horror icons, try this one a try. If you’re in it for an involving story like me, don’t be surprised if you don’t exactly what you came for.


Final Grade: C

Movie Review: "The Best Years Of Our Lives" (1946)



War can often bring out the best that cinema has to offer. 
A brutal, vicious but often necessary act, war can be traumatic, heartbreaking, yet at the same time uplifting and can show us in our better nature. Many filmmakers have capitalized on this, which has led to many of the most influential movies of their time, form the subtle yet graphic “All Quiet On The Western Front,” to the gritty and heart-pounding “Zero Dark Thirty,” even to my personal favorite film of all time, Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”
An interesting era for war films was the 1940s, especially in the years following World War II. There was very little grey area about the depictions of war at that time. The majority of films were about the Americans saving the war or being triumphant heroes who beat down the baddies, usually depictions of Nazis or the Japanese. 
One year after the end of the war, William Wyler released his interpretation of harshness and brutal conditions of the aftermath of war, in “The Best Years Of Our Lives.” Unlike any other film that came out at the time, this film didn’t try to sugarcoat anything or make the soldiers look like heroes, but instead as normal people attempting to readjust to society after being away for so long.
The film follows three officers returning to their routes of Boone City. First is Al Stephenson (Fredric March), an infantryman who returns to his job as a banker while realizing that his kids have grown up and things have changed. Then there’s Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), a bomber pilot married to a dancer unsure of what to do with his life now. Finally, you have Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), a sailor who lost both of his hands in an explosion and now has hooks for limbs.


While nothing extraordinary happens over the course of the film, that’s the strength of this piece. It goes against every other type of war movie which came out at the time and just tells the story of three victims of the war and their average lives. Nothing over-the-top or forced, no added conflict to make events matter, just these three men coming home after three years at war and the results that come from that physical and mental absence. 
To punctuate this effect is the stellar cinematography of Gregg Toland, who is most famous for his work on “Citizen Kane.” Much like Kane, there is a distinct spotlight on the deep focus, making everything within the shot, even something far in the background, clear and easy to see. There are several scenes that take advantage of this, especially when multiple conversations and focal points are in one shot. Instead of the camera cutting away, our eyes are drawn to where these characters are looking and we see everything they do. 


What really sells “The Best Years Of Our Lives” though are these three gentlemen and their adjustment to not being apart of the war any longer. For Fred, things came so easy to him during the war, yet when he returns it seems like he can’t do anything right with his wife and getting a job. 
With Al, everything feels too different for him. His kids have become adults who don’t need his help anymore, and he gets a promotion at his job where he more relies on his heart, much to the dismay of his superiors. The only thing that seems to remain consistent is his supporting and loving wife, who watches on with confidence and a smile as her husband begins to drink way too much.
But the real crux of the film is Homer and how he has to readjust, not just to society, but to living without his hands. The film makes it a point early on that, while Homer was recuperating, the Navy taught him how to do many tasks with his hooks, including how to drive and light cigarettes. But one thing they could never teach him is how to hug his fiancee upon his return.


Homer’s character is just as much about the people around him reacting to his situation as it is about Homer learning to live with the hand he has been dealt, especially his girlfriend. Homer doesn’t want people to take pity on him just because he’s different. If anything, he wants to be looked at like any other guy, but that’s just not going to happen. He tries to have dinner with his family, but even his father tries to hide his own hands in the presence of Homer. 
Homer is made even more impressive when the actor playing him never had any acting experience before this film, and was hired by William Wyler himself after watching a documentary featuring Harold Russell. Still, among actors like Fredric March, Russell gives the most heartfelt and emotional performance of the whole film. Through his simplicity and sincerity, Homer is the standout character.


Overall, “The Best Years Of Our Lives,” manages to breakout of the traditional system of war films and tells a story about three average lives without overdoing it on the drama or message and just lets these men be themselves. Combined with breathtaking cinematography and outstanding performances all around, the film still holds up incredibly well today and will continue to entertain audiences as long as war exists.
Final Grade: A

Turner Classic Movie Reviews

If you’re a fan of great old movies, then one movie channel that is a must-watch is TCM, Turner Classic Movies. All day long they play some of the greatest films of all time and give people an avenue to watch some old movies that would otherwise be inaccessible. 
As such, I frequently watch TCM for movies which I’ve heard great things about, but have never had a chance to watch for one reason or another. Recently, I noticed that I’ve been watching many new movies to me on TCM. So I figured why not write up reviews on all the movies I’ve been watching through Turner Classic Movies these last few days.
There are sure to be many more reviews coming due to watching TCM so much. In fact, I’ve already written several reviews on movies watched through TCM, such as “The Birdman Of Alcatraz” and “Things To Come.” But, without further adieu, here are the many films of Turner Classic Movies.


“The Lodger: A Story Of The London Fog” (1927)
Ah, silent cinema. I’ve felt there is a certain charm to silent movies, which is lacking from all sound pictures: The ability to tell a story through visuals and the emotions on the actors faces. No words or dialogue, just the images. In a way, silent movies are cinema in its purest form.
Many of the greatest stars and icons of the movies began there careers in the silent era of filmmaking, one of the most notables ones being Alfred Hitchcock, often known as the “Master Of Suspense” and for giving some of the greatest thrillers in cinematic history, such as “Rear Window,” “Psycho,” “North By Northwest” and “Vertigo.”
Hitchcock’s first outing in the thriller genre was when he still worked out of Britain, with “The Lodger: A Story Of The London Fog” in 1927, right before the end of the silent era. While this film has many of the classic Hitchcock tropes that we’ve come to know and love, this particular film sure does falter at times.
The movie begins when an unknown man, known as “The Avenger,” kills blonde women in the London streets in a Jack The Ripper style. Now all of London is paranoid about who the killer might be and where he’ll strike next. Two such people are a couple who own a boarding house and have just rented out one of their rooms to a strange man who wishes to hide his face and starts to grow an attachment to their blonde daughter.
Instead of suspecting that he might be a vampire, they decide to let their friend, who is a police detective and in love with their daughter, handle the man and find out if he is the Avenger.
While the idea of a serial killer who only hunts blondes is intriguing, especially in the hands of Hitchcock who is well known for his obsession with the golden curled women, that’s the only interesting thing going on with the film. Everything else is rather predictable and lackluster.
We spend most of the movie following this strange man as we’re given clues to believe that he might be the killer, while we know that he isn’t the one. This might have been an ingenious idea back in 1927, now it’s a trope of thrillers and mysteries that only serves as a misdirection. When the majority of the film is a misdirection, you give the impression that you’re just wasting the audience’s time.
This really comes to a head at the end of the film when the truth is revealed and we find out more about the killer. Let’s just say that I felt unsatisfied with what we’re given and how little it has to do with the resolution of the main characters. The film builds up this man like Jack the Ripper and we don’t even know his real name or why he did it. So many questions and expectations left unanswered that it’s difficult not to be pissed off at the movie for leaving us so much in the dark.
If you want to see how Alfred Hitchcock started and watch a silent Hitchcock film, then certainly give “The Lodger” a shot. If you’re not interested in silent movies or hate being left out of all the important information, I’d say skip this one.
Final Grade: C-


“Safety Last!” (1923)
This is my first introduction to Harold Lloyd, who is often said to be one of the greatest physical comedians of all time. Personally, when I think physical comedy, I think anything like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the Three Stooges and Tom & Jerry. I might already have my feelings of physical comedy greatest set in my mind so much that Harold Lloyd would have no affect me.
“Safety Last!” is another silent film that still captivates audiences today, 90 years after the films release. It tells the story of a love-struck boy from a small town (Harold Lloyd) as he moves to the big city to make something of himself so that his girlfriend (Mildred Davis) can be proud of him and live a happy and carefree life.
The problem is the kid can’t find a decent job in the this huge city and can only get small amounts of money, all of which go straight to his girl as jewelry and presents. Luckily, he gets a chance to make it big when his boss at a department store says that he’ll give anyone a thousand dollars to bring in more customers. Harold decides the best way to do this is to climb to the top of the twelve story store without any support whatsoever.
My problem with the movie was where it started and how much time it spent before getting to the interesting part. Honestly, the film only starts to get good when Harold prepares to climb the building, which is about halfway through the movie.
Before that point, it shows Harold stumbling around town trying to make a living while also getting his girlfriend to believe he is the manager of the department store he works at, when all he does is measure and cut pieces of fabric. All the time, he is lying to the woman he loves about it, and never once has to pay for his actions. He gets away with so many terrible actions that I stop being sympathetic towards him and grow to hate him.
At least in a film like “City Lights,” where Charlie Chaplin has to pretend to be a millionaire to impress a blind girl he’s falling in love with, Chaplin doesn’t take the issue lightly. He seems to hate doing it, and in the end still does the right thing when it comes to paying for an operation that would fix her eyes. Here, there seems to be no remorse or hatred towards lying and making things up to the love of your life. 
Now, that being said, once the film does get to Harold climbing the building, the film gets very impressive. Even by today’s standards, this is still an amazing feat. Harold Lloyd literally had to climb this twelve story building with no support or assistance and has so many long takes where he’s hanging on to the building by his finger tips or even the hands of a clock. The comedy for this scenario works because of the real life danger that Harold put himself in for this very long scene. 
What’s even funnier is that originally, he wasn’t supposed to climb. A buddy of his, who demonstrated earlier that he could climb a building no problem, was going to do it and he’d split the thousand dollars with him. But the two had a run-in with a cop earlier and his buddy spends the rest of the film running from the police, meaning Harold has to climb. 
It’s a scenario that works effectively on its own. While the first half of the film has many moments that makes the main character un-relatable and unsympathetic, the second half more than makes up for it with wonderful stunts and great sense of humor. 
Final Grade: B-


“High Sierra” (1941)
Confession time: Humphrey Bogart is far from my favorite actor. He is not bad at what he does, but I can’t help but scratch my head at some of his performances. Mostly, the roles that involve him doing something romantic, especially “Casablanca.”
I don’t see Bogart as a romance man. Maybe it’s because of how old he looks compared to his costars or that he has a pretty ugly mug. As such, I find that Bogart is in his element when he has to be rough and tough, out in the wilderness, trying to survive. The best example of this is “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre,” where Bogart plays a man desperate to make a living, but is overcome by greed when he begins his hunt for gold and just might resort to killing his partners just to get their gold as well.
One of Bogarts’ earliest yet most well known roles was “High Sierra,” which was written by the same man who wrote and directed “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre,” John Huston. 
Bogart plays a gangster, Roy Earle, who has recently been released from an eight year stay in prison. Earle swears to an aging and dying friend of his, Big Mac (Donald MacBride), to do one last big heist, where he and a group of nervous newcomers will rob a California resort. All the while, Earle mingles with the newbies and tries to make a life for himself outside of his gangster lifestyle, including using all of his money to pay for an operation to help a young girl, Velma (Joan Leslie), with her clubbed foot. 
Just as the heist is being pulled off, things go south and Earle has to kill a security guard, while three of the new guys are killed in a car accident on the way back to the hideout. Now beings the manhunt for Earle has he retreats into the Sierra Mountains to hide and make one final stand against the police.
At it’s core, “High Sierra” is a tragedy for the character of Roy Earle. He spends eight years in prison for his gangster crimes, is free to do what he pleases, only to be sucked back into the gangster lifestyle. While Earle tries to help out innocent people and attempts to lead a normal life, it’s his greed and love of crime that keeps him going. Yet, ultimately, he can’t even have that without hurting the people around him. 
Bogart handles the role with his typical stone face approach, as a guy whose been around the block more than once and knows the ins-and-outs of this lifestyle. While he does develop a relationship with one of the female gangsters, Marie (Ida Lupino), I don’t actually buy that the two were in love. That their relationship was purely physical and nothing more. 
Maybe it’s because of Bogart’s lack of raw emotion that makes most of his romantic roles so unconvincing to me. In this case, that style of acting works for a hardened gangster. The film makes it a point that Earle is the last of his kind. That everyone else like him is either dead or in jail. So to show that he isn’t willing to let anything hit him, or that Earle has seen so much crime that nothing affects him anymore, Bogart’s portrayal of Earle works here. 
Overall, “High Sierra” works as a good gangster piece about the last of his kind, attempting to break out and make a life for himself, only for it all to come right back in his face in a tragic way. Bogart works in this role and I can’t imagine anyone else playing Roy Earle. 
Final Grade: B+


“The Passion Of Joan Of Arc” (1928)
You know what’s worse than a courtroom drama? A silent courtroom drama. 
Personally, I’ve never been a fan at all of courtroom dramas. I see them as just a bunch of people talking back and forth in circles, discussing legal matters that I don’t understand. 
Even the best courtroom dramas, like “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “The Verdict” don’t do much for me because it’s like listening to two different auto mechanics talking about different ways to repair your car on something that you didn’t know was broken: You don’t understand what they’re talking about, and in the long run you don’t really care.
But suddenly, if you remove all the dialogue in a courtroom drama, suddenly the film becomes a test of patience. Watching as a bunch of talking heads with no names go talk endlessly about something even you’re not sure about. You watch as the defendant just sits there with a blank expression on their face, soaking in what’s going on as if they’re staring at a fly on the far wall.
That’s what “The Passion Of Joan Of Arc” felt like. Scene after scene of judges asking our lead character, Joan (Maria Falconetti), the same questions over and over. If she had really seen god. What god was wearing. Whether god was a man or a woman. How she was sure if it was god or if wasn’t the devil in disguise. And all the while, Joan takes what feels like minutes to answer each of their questions, all while having the same blank expression with huge eyes that look like they’ll pop out of her head any minute. 
There is no substance to this film whatsoever. I’m someone who knows very little about the Joan of Arc, other than she believed she was a decedent of God. After watching this film, I learned nothing new about her or her crusade. The film literally begins with her in the courtroom and judges deciding what must be done with her. We’re never given a reason as to why she’s in this position, how she feels about, where she came from, how France got to where it was and how she got this connection with God.
Now granted, the film was supposed to be an exact reflection of the case involving Joan, which is something that director Carl Th. Dreyer tried his best to emulate. Still, my problem is this doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting story alone. Context, in this case, can make a world of differences, as well as not constantly cutting Joan’s face every time something happens.
I know I said earlier that silent films have a certain charm to them for their ability to tell a story without every saying a word. Well, this is a case that would have benefitted from having some actual words said, rather than keeping it silent. The downside to silent movies is they can’t always effectively capture the full affect of human emotion. “The Passion Of Joan Of Arc” would have greatly improved if we could hear Joan speak and hear the impact of her sacrifice on both the judges and France.
In the end, “The Passion Of Joan Of Arc” didn’t do anything for me. There were points where I drifted off for what felt like minutes and it didn’t seem like I missed a thing, just more vacant staring by Joan. In small doses, that kind of look can be powerful, but overdo it and it just becomes annoying.
Final Grade: D-