François Truffaut – Jules et Jim (1962)

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Hailed as one of the finest films ever made, Jules and Jim charts, over twenty-five years, the relationship between two friends and the object of their mutual obsession. The legendary François Truffaut directs, and Jeanne Moreau stars as the alluring and willful Catherine, whose enigmatic smile and passionate nature lure Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) into one of cinema’s most captivating romantic triangles. An exuberant and poignant meditation on freedom, loyalty, and the fortitude of love, Jules and Jim was a worldwide smash in 1962 and remains every bit as audacious and entrancing today. Continue reading

King Vidor – Our Daily Bread [+Extras] (1934)

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synopsis – AMG:
Unable to secure Hollywood-studio backing for his Depression-era agrarian drama Our Daily Bread, director King Vidor financed the picture himself, with the eleventh-hour assistance of Charles Chaplin. Intended as a sequel to Vidor’s silent classic The Crowd (1928) the film casts Tom Keene and Karen Morley as John and Mary, the roles originated in the earlier film by James Murray and Eleanor Boardman. Unable to make ends meet in the Big City, John and Mary assume control of an abandoned farm, even though they know nothing about tilling the soil. Generous to a fault, the couple opens their property to other disenfranchised Depression victims, and before long they’ve formed a utopian communal cooperative, with everyone pitching together for the common good. Beyond such traditional obstacles as inadequate funding, failed crops and drought, John is deflected from his purpose by sluttish blonde vamp Sally (Barbara Pepper), but he pulls himself together in time to supervise construction of a huge irrigation ditch — a project which consumes the film’s final two reels, and which turns out to be one of the finest and most thrilling sequences that Vidor (or anyone) ever put on film. Continue reading

Billy Wilder – The Fortune Cookie (1966)

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Synopsis by Hal Erickson
The British title of Billy Wilder’s classic comedy was Meet Whiplash Willie — for, despite Jack Lemmon’s star billing, the movie’s driving force is Oscar-winning Walter Matthau as gloriously underhanded lawyer “Whiplash” Willie Gingrich. CBS cameraman Harry Hinkle (Lemmon) is injured when he is accidentally bulldozed by football player Luther “Boom Boom” Jackson (Ron Rich) during a Cleveland Browns game. Willie, Harry’s brother-in-law, foresees an insurance-settlement bonanza, and he convinces Harry to pretend to be incapacitated by the accident. To insure his client’s cooperation, Willie arranges for Harry’s covetous ex-wife Sandy (Judi West) to feign a rekindling of their romance. Harry’s conscience is plagued by the solicitous behavior of Boom Boom, who is so devastated at causing Harry’s injury that he insists on waiting on the “cripple” hand and foot. Meanwhile, dishevelled private eye Purkey (Cliff Osmond) keeps Harry under constant surveillance, hoping to catch him moving around so the insurance company can avoid shelling out a fortune. Wilder and usual co-writer I.A.L. Diamond were at their most jaundiced and cynical here, even if, after a sardonic semiclimax, the last ten minutes succumb to the sentimentality that often marred Wilder’s later movies. Continue reading

Monta Bell – Lady of the Night (1925)

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Directed by Monta Bell, who deserves to be remembered alongside Von Stroheim and other directorial giants of the era, the picture stars Bell’s favorite actress, Norma Shearer, in a dual role. She plays a

rich girl, Florence, and a poor girl named Molly, a gangster’s moll.

Having the same actress play both roles is the brilliant touch. The women, of course, look alike, yet no one in the film notices. In the eyes of the world they’re totally different people. The audience, however, sees them as through the eyes of an omniscient observer — recognizing plainly that these women are, essentially, the same. Continue reading

Norman Z. McLeod – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)

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Plot Synopsis by Hal Erickson

James Thurber wasn’t too happy with the Sam Goldwyn film adaptation of his 1939 short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but the Technicolor musical comedy proved to be a cash cow at the box office. Danny Kaye stars as Walter, a milquetoast proofreader for a magazine publishing firm. Walter is constitutionally incapable of standing up for himself, which is why his mother (Fay Bainter) has been able to arrange a frightful marriage between her son and the beautiful but overbearing Gertrude Griswold (Ann Rutherford). As he muses over the lurid covers of the magazines put out by his firm, Walter retreats into his fantasy world, where he is heroic, poised, self-assured, and the master of his fate. Glancing at the cover of a western periodical, Walter fancies himself the two-gun “Perth Amboy Kid”; a war magazine prompts Walter to envision himself as a fearless RAF pilot; and so on. Continue reading

Tony Richardson – The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

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Plot:
A rebellious youth, sentenced to a boy’s reformatory for robbing a bakery, rises through the ranks of the institution through his prowess as a long distance runner. During his solitary runs, reveries of his life and times before his incarceration lead him to re-evaluate his privileged status as the Governor’s prize runner. Continue reading

Elia Kazan – On the Waterfront (1954)

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synopsis
This classic story of Mob informers was based on a number of true stories and filmed on location in and around the docks of New York and New Jersey. Mob-connected union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) rules the waterfront with an iron fist. The police know that he’s been responsible for a number of murders, but witnesses play deaf and dumb (“plead D & D”). Washed-up boxer Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) has had an errand-boy job because of the influence of his brother Charley, a crooked union lawyer (Rod Steiger). Witnessing one of Friendly’s rub-outs, Terry is willing to keep his mouth shut until he meets the dead dockworker’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint). “Waterfront priest” Father Barry (Karl Malden) tells Terry that Edie’s brother was killed because he was going to testify against boss Friendly before the crime commission. Because he could have intervened, but didn’t, Terry feels somewhat responsible for the death. When Father Barry receives a beating from Friendly’s goons, Terry is persuaded to cooperate with the commission. Featuring Brando’s famous “I coulda been a contendah” speech, On the Waterfront has often been seen as an allegory of “naming names” against suspected Communists during the anti-Communist investigations of the 1950s. Continue reading