Friday, January 06, 2012

Favorite Old Movies Viewed in 2011



When they were passing out the ranking compulsions, the Siren skipped the line. Oh sure, she makes lists, but they don’t tend to focus on ordinal progression. The Siren’s lists are more like clumps. Never, not once has the Siren left a cinema or turned off a DVD and mused, “I must re-shuffle my Intriguingly Investigatible List for 1939.” It just isn’t how she thinks. Maybe the Siren is too soft-hearted to put artists who pleased her way back in the queue, sternly reminding posterity that their movie wasn’t as good as Rules of the Game. Maybe she’s lazy. Probably both.

Given this personality trait, the Siren hasn’t been making lists of Best Old Movies Seen for the First Time in 20Whatever. That’s a little selfish of her, in that the Siren enjoys such lists from other film writers. But she always lacked an ordering principle, a model she could take to heart.

This year, the Siren found one, through Clara at Via Marguta 51. Two things that the Siren liked about this list. One, while it’s composed of links back to Clara's reviews, the descriptions are limited to two sentences or less for each movie. Second, the list is purely about pleasure, its presence or absence. That’s it; no heavy theory or lofty judgments, just pure reaction, posted without any apparent desire to convert or impress. This, thought the Siren, is a methodology ripe for adoption.

In that spirit, the Siren offers her own list of 20 favorite old movies watched for the first time in 2011. The list is based on nothing more than the amount of joy the Siren got from each movie this year, and is ordered by that principle alone.

1. Gone to Earth (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1950). Not just beautiful; it also has soul.

2. The Constant Nymph (Edmund Goulding, 1941). Are you a little weary of the Siren's partisan asides on Jean Negulesco, Fred Zinnemann, George Stevens and Clarence Brown? Rejoice, because this year the Siren will, in addition, be spreading the good word about Edmund Goulding.



3. So Evil My Love (Lewis Allen, 1948). Ray Milland, Ann Todd and Geraldine Fitzgerald at their peak in this glorious gaslight noir based on a celebrated Victorian murder. The Siren recognized the case about midway in, and the windup still shocked her.

4. World on a Wire (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1973). Slow start (some walkouts); then Fassbinder’s hero smushes a fedora down on his head and starts running around this fabulously decorated futuristic world asking nosey questions, like Sam Spade turned loose in the sci-fi section at Comic Con. At that point, of course, the Siren was hooked.

5. Union Depot (Alfred E. Green, 1932). The smuttiness masks a romantic heart--just like Douglas Fairbanks Jr.’s character.

6. You and Me (Fritz Lang, 1938). Fritz Lang could do anything.

7. Night World (Hobart Henley, 1932). One of Busby Berkeley’s first choreographed numbers, “Who’s Your Little Who-Zis?”, particularly fabulous because the dancers are contained by an approximation of a real nightclub stage. Plus, a great performance by Clarence Muse as the one character with real heartache, and heart.

8. Yield to the Night (J. Lee Thompson, 1956). The Siren joins the Diana Dors fan club.



9. La Bandera (Julien Duvivier, 1935) The Siren’s new favorite Foreign Legion epic, complete with transvestites, a topless dancer, and Robert Le Vigan almost stealing the movie from Jean Gabin.

10. Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (Norman Foster, 1948) Enthralling opening, via Russell Metty. Psychologically complex noir with a touching love story at the center.

11. The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (Robert Siodmak, 1945) Unlike James Agee in his review, the Siren was excited to see a movie about incest that made it past the censors, especially with Siodmak directing. Geraldine Fitzgerald rules and George Sanders is almost as good as in This Land Is Mine.

12. Born to Be Bad (Nicholas Ray, 1950) The Siren is convinced Nicholas Ray loved that staircase as much as the actors.

13. Man's Castle (Frank Borzage, 1933) Only Borzage could take a beautiful young girl’s love for a cruel, selfish jerk and make the Siren root for the girl to get her man.



14. Girls About Town (George Cukor, 1931) Kay Francis is lovely, but it’s Lilyan Tashman’s show, all the way. Chalk this one up for the sisterhood.

15. Roughly Speaking (Michael Curtiz, 1945) Failure can be as loving a bond for a couple as time or triumph.

16. The Strip (László Kardos, 1951) Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden and some fantastic jazz-club ambience. And Mickey Rooney is completely at home in it.

17. Lady on a Train (Charles David, 1945) A film to make tough-talking young critics (looking at you, Simon Abrams) clear their throats and say, “Yeah, it’s really cute.”



18. The Sleeping Tiger (Joseph Losey credited as Victor Hanbury, 1954) Losey always strikes the Siren as gall-and-wormwood bitter, and here that's perfect. Alexis Smith vibrates with suppressed sex and rage, as does Dirk Bogarde.

19. Hallelujah I'm a Bum (Lewis Milestone, 1933) The movie that finally made the Siren see what others see in Al Jolson.

20. Moss Rose (Gregory Ratoff, 1947). More Victorian atmosphere, with Peggy Cummins, Ethel Barrymore and above all Vincent Price.

89 comments:

VP81955 said...

Nice list -- enjoyed "Hallelujah I'm A Bum," too. Probably Jolson's best movie.

The Siren said...

VP, it was certainly the best Jolson I've ever seen. The Jazz Singer remains a disappointment that's as sharp in my memory as when I first saw it.

Peter Nellhaus said...

OK, you got me. I've only seen four films on that list, although Durbin is slowly climbing the Netflix queue. And for what it's worth, I have no problem with your partisanship. (And hooray, that you finally saw Man's Castle.)

shane013a said...

Wow I sing that to my cat all the time...not to mention Marilyn(Who's yer little whozit?) Thanks for letting me know where I got it from. Got to see World on a Wire soon now...so as we find a copy!

shane013a said...

That should be 'soon as we find a copy'...coffee is not doing it's job!

Marilyn said...

I've only seen three of these films, but my favorite oldie of 2011 is among them thanks to your alert - The Constant Nymph. After that, I'd put Douglas Sirk's film with music Take Me to Town, Here Comes the Navy for the treat of seeing the first O'Brien/Cagney pairing, and the eerie So Long at the Fair

Gloria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
VP81955 said...

I neglected to note I also saw "Union Depot" for the first time. Loved the atmosphere, and of course how can one go wrong with pre-Code Joan Blondell?

Gloria said...

I have yet to see "La Bandera"... So far couldn't shake out the fact that it is a film that glorifies the Legión, which shortly afterwards was the core of the putschist/fascist uprising in Spain, but Gabin and Duvivier make it sort of a must see film, when I come across it.

As for The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, it is one of my faves, and a good proof that Sanders could do beyond his trademark Cads, and very well... As for la Fitzgerald, this was the first time I had seen her on a film and kind of coloured her every other film appearances as far as I'm concerned: When I saw Dark Victory, I kind of expected her to be about to stab Bette in the back in every scene where she appeared (I was kind of disappointed to see she was such a good girl, after all...)

The Siren said...

Lightning round here, bc I'm on my way to work and won't be back till tonight. But Shane, I had never heard that song before; Peter, I think I just won "Stump the Band" and will be resting on my laurels for at least a fortnight; Marilyn, isn't So Long at the Fair SPLENDID? GOD I adore that movie; and Gloria, La Bandera is, as I'm sure you know, the Spanish Foreign Legion and its politics are...what you're expecting, let's put it that way. If you can get through They Died With Their Boots On or Charge of the Light Brigade or, for that matter, Beau Geste you'll have no problem.

Later my friends!

VP81955 said...

"The Jazz Singer" remains a disappointment that's as sharp in my memory as when I first saw it.

It's difficult sometimes to separate cinematic from artistic achievement. In that vein, the '27 "Jazz Singer" is really no different from "Becky Sharp" (three-strip Technicolor) or "Bwana Devil" (3-D).

My Culture Diary said...

We share as newbies Uncle Harry and Hallelujah. Now, I get Jolson. For me, the best, first time old movies of 2011 were Algiers, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Laughton), Hobson's Choice, The Captive City, The Tall Target, Railroaded, Alex In Wonderland, Comrade X and Two Weeks In Another Town.

Larry A.

Larry A. said...

Oops, forgot an important one: The Smiling Lieutenant.

Jaime said...

I also watched YOU AND ME for the first time - on New Year's day in fact.

Lang is one of my three favorite directors (the other two are Welles and Hawks), but I confess I wasn't entirely sold on the jailbird romance... at first. Charmed, occasionally delighted, but I couldn't help but think that someone had only just made the "doomed lovers, too fragile for this world" masterpiece, and that someone was also Lang, and that movie was YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE.

Anyway, like I said, "at first." Because then George Raft visits the den of thieves/ex-cons. And the "Knocking Song." And the jailhouse reverie. Real, all-cylinders, Brecht-Weill stuff, and Lang is on fire. That's when I realized that the opening hour was just a coiling spring.

Kevyn Knox said...

Great list indeed. Also great to see Union Depot in there. It is one of my favourite precodes and one of my favourite Joan Blondell performances. I saw it for the first time in 2010 while I was on a John Blondell streak.

Gone to Earth I also saw for the first time last year - pure Archer bliss.

Jaime said...

These are my favorite older films of 2011 - in no order:

FOUR NIGHTS OF A DREAMER (Robert Bresson, 1971)
MINISTRY OF FEAR (Fritz Lang, 1944)
WESTERN UNION (Fritz Lang, 1941)
AMERICAN GUERRILLA IN THE PHILIPPINES (Fritz Lang, 1950)
DADDY LONG LEGS (Jean Negulesco, 1955)
LET’S MAKE LOVE (George Cukor, 1960)
DAVID HOLZMAN’S DIARY (Jim McBride, 1967)
PALE RIDER (Clint Eastwood, 1985)
FOUR ADVENTURES OF REINETTE AND MIRABELLE (Eric Rohmer, 1987)
APACHE DRUMS (Hugo Fregonese, 1951)
THE WOMAN WITH RED HAIR (Tatsumi Kumashiro, 1979)
THE ITALIAN JOB (Peter Collinson, 1969)
THE PURPLE PLAIN (Robert Parrish, 1954)
MAFIOSO (Alberto Lattuada, 1962)
THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT (John Ford, 1953)
LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT (William Keighley and Howard Bretherton, 1933)
WATERLOO BRIDGE (James Whale, 1931)

DavidEhrenstein said...

The beating heart of Hallelujah I'm A Bum is Jolson singing"You Are Too beautifuL" --one of Rodgers and hsrt's most beautiful ballads. The sensitivity with which he sings this great song is quite a contrast with his usual hard-driving performing style.

X. Trapnel said...

Ah yes, Goulding. I sense a very talented director and interesting sensibility struggling with recalcitrant material (Maugham, J. Hilton) and miscast actors (Power, Muni [Great Make-Up Boxes of History], Henreid). Still something fascinating and atmospheric comes through and I'm pushing the delayed gratification principle to the limit with The Constant Nymph which I hope to see before 2013.

Tom Block said...

I'd have figured you had every beat of "Uncle Harry" memorized years ago, Siren.

For me:

1. “Hell's Hinges” – William S. Hart’s 1916 version of “Taxi Driver”. The final apocalypse is one of those great eye-opening surprises in silent cinema.

2. “Four Steps in the Clouds” – Alessandro Blasetti’s graceful story about a traveling salesman who winds up helping a (single) pregnant girl rejoin her conservative family. One lovely moment after another, though the ending--when the hero realizes his life is one big missed chance--punched me right in the gut.

3. Ken Annakin's “Across the Bridge” – Mysterious international financier Rod Steiger is caught embezzling millions and flees to Mexico, intending to disappear. Instead, chaos ensues. Stolen identities, a dead man come back to life, a gallery of characters representing varying degrees of sketchiness, and a dog who becomes a central player in the drama. It was filmed in Spain using Gypsies for Mexicans, but it works; Steiger told Annakin the only movie of his that he liked more was “The Pawnbroker”. “Dolores”—the mongrel that Annakin found in a pound—became a celebrity when the movie came out. (Welles HAD to have seen this before making “Touch of Evil” a year or two later.)

4. “Adua and Her Friends” – Simone Signoret and three fellow hookers, ready for a better life, put their life savings and all of their hopes into a countryside restaurant. Insert frowny emoticon here—things don't go as planned. A vivid demonstration of how much flypaper there is on our social roles.

5. “Blast of Silence” – Great no-budget post-noir about a jaded hit-man, shot in the streets and skuzzy hotel rooms of NYC. Allan Baron both directs and stars (his first choice, Peter Falk, was busy getting famous in “Murder, Inc.”). Brilliant use of locations, especially the reed-choked marshes where the climactic gunfight does down in a driving rainstorm.

6. “Chronicle of a Summer (Paris 1960)” – Jean Rouch's great documentary of French attitudes about sex, race and politics. Some of the interview subjects are hypnotically fascinating.

7. “Nothing But a Man” – Honest, down-to-earth study of race prejudice in America—it’s brimming with layered characters and subtle insights. Much of its gaze is trained on how the targets of bigotry can internalize hate until they begin undermining themselves—an insidious syndrome that’s still under-discussed. Julius Harris and Gloria Foster, as the hero’s father and the father’s girlfriend, are astonishing.

8. Two shorts: “Meet Marlon Brando” (Maysles) & “Hôtel des Invalides” (Franju)

9. "Deep End" (Skolimowski) - Unpredictable tale of teen obsession; Jane Asher, Paul McCartney's one-time squeeze, is the object of desire. (And just to be Siren-centric for a moment here, Diana Dors has a scene that will blow your mind.)

10. “Alice in the Cities” - The whole “uptight adult is chilled out by a precocious kid” idea done as well as possible. That it’s ALSO one of the great road movies, AND one of the great buddy movies, is almost unfair.

Howard Fritzson said...

Edmund Goulding helmed the Marion Davies movie "Blondie Of The Follies" which was on TCM this week. It is very entertaining, beautifully directed, with lots of background detail and very natural line readings. Sometimes the little throwaway observations that Davies speaks are the most memorable. The witty script is by Anita Loos and Frances Marion but Goulding was probably responsible for keeping up the invigorating pace.

Tony Dayoub said...

Wow, I feel lucky to have participated in two of these viewings, one indirectly and the other in person. I posted my own such list on Twitter last week. I won't embarrass myself by reposting it here (they're pretty basic canon).

Trish said...

I loved The Strip! And for once I didn't have the urge to sit on Mickey Rooney. I also loved Union Depot for Fairbanks, Jr. and Blondell. But I can't believe I missed The Constant Nymph and Girls About Town...!!

joel65913 said...

From your list loved Lady on a Train, prefer the adult Deanna to her younger self-would love to see the elusive Christmas Holiday one day, Sleeping Tiger and Uncle Harry.

My list of 2011 gems:
About Mrs. Leslie-Shirley Booth and Robert Ryan tear at your heart.

Joy House-Jane Fonda and Lola Albright in a mind twister of repression and glee.

The Princess Comes Across-Who knew that Fred MacMurray was ever sexy? He and Carole Lombard are a delightful pair in this wacky mystery.

mndean said...

Oh my, I stumped for Girls About Town in other quarters from the time I first saw it, but as yet you seem to be the only one I know who actually saw it! Not being available on DVD anymore doesn't help, I guess. Union Depot I've had for ages, and I found it one of the better of the seedy side of the Depression, sort of Grand Hotel using a train station with crooks and hookers. Man's Castle is one of those films that told me Borzage could make a good romance with the most unlikely (or mundane) couples. Night World was a bit of a surprise to me, considering the director. It's one of the few Universal precodes I've been able to tease out of hiding, save the horror films.

Yes, I'm still tending the precode stand (as if you couldn't tell!)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Latest FaBlog: Fait Diver -- Hommage A Samuel Fuller

Clara said...

Hey, thanks for the mention! I actually spent hours thinking about the best way to present a list like this, so thanks for noticing it :) And about your film picks, well, I just had seen one (You & Me). I have a lot to watch this year :)

Ed Hulse said...

A list to warm my heart. Many of my old favorites on there -- including UNION DEPOT, GIRLS ABOUT TOWN, and MAN'S CASTLE -- dating back to the pre-video, pre-TCM days when we had to buy tattered old 16mm prints to see those legendary, glittering pre-Code gems.

Robby Cress said...

Great list. I need to see that Joseph Losey film, "The Sleeping Tiger." I've really enjoyed all of his films that I've seen and think its a shame that he hasn't really been paid much attention in the U.S.A. "Gall-and-wormwood bitter" is a perfect description for Losey and that's what I like about him.

The Siren said...

Ooh, exciting, all kinds of new handles!

Robby, I was slightly afraid that Losey description was going to sound like a slam; glad you understood that it wasn't.

Clara, I just loved how you were obviously writing this without a single thought for whether or not you had the "right" opinion. No apologies! Awesome! Glenn Kenny once said something that I have adopted as one of my mottos, that "it isn't you, it's me" doesn't work if you're breaking up with someone so you certainly shouldn't try something so lame with a movie, either.

Ed, what a keen pleasure to see you in my comments. At some point I'm going to re-post some of my Nomad pieces, one of which was about seeing Dave Kehr present Sailor's Luck. And what Dave said was striking; he pointed out that movie clubs used to have easy access to 16mm prints of a lot of movies that have since disappeared, and Sailor's Luck (a Raoul Walsh, for heaven's sake) was one of them. I don't think people realize that this brave new world of streaming Blu-Ray DVD digital marvels is just forsaking a bunch of wonderful old stuff that nobody is bothering with. Anyway, Union Depot and Girls About Town I saw at the Film Forum. Long live those guys.

The Siren said...

Larry, I am scribbling down The Captive City. Hobson's Choice is wonderful, isn't it? And Uncle Harry -- such a crazy tonal mix. I loved Moyna MacGill too and I don't recall seeing her before.

Jaime, I loved You and Me from that first moment on the escalator--pure sex to me, and I don't even care that much for George Raft. And Sylvia Sidney looked so lovely. That scene where she marks up risk/reward on a chalkboard! I was DYING. Even though I love Fritz Lang I went thinking it was going to be a curio, but it was pure bliss. One movie that I didn't include, and should have, was House by the River. I am not sure if he's in my top 3 but I have never seen a Fritz Lang movie I was sorry I gave the time to. Oddly, my least favorite--not because it's bad, but because I find it chilly--is probably his best-know, Metropolis.

KC said...

I think Lady on a Train is a great way to introduce people to Deanna Durbin. It make you realize she was sharper than her sweet songbird image would have you believe. Her movies with Charles Laughton would probably do the trick as well though. She had such great chemistry with him that I forgot about her supposed love interest in both movies.

The Siren said...

Kevyn, we have good company on Union Depot; I've read that Jonathan Rosenbaum is very fond of it. Hugo reminded me of Union Depot in spots; if Hugo were directed by anyone but Scorsese I would dismiss that as my fevered imaginings but since he's seen everything, it's quite possible he had it vaguely in mind.

VP, it's true; Jazz Singer is a landmark but it doesn't retain a lot of interest otherwise.

David, I loved Jolson's singing in this one too.

XT, don't delay too long with Constant Nymph. I was going to record it and watch later because it came on before my kids were in bed. I wound up watching and when they wanted to know what the heck it was I told them they could either watch or go read some improving book, like Jeeves.

Tom - wow, now I really want to see Hell's Hinges.

Tony, I consider Gone to Earth my top moviegoing experience of last year, and am still so grateful I had your presence as added incentive to trek downtown.

Joel, I loved The Princess Comes Across too! Your other two I need to catch up with. Gradually working my way through Robert Ryan.

Howard, I am kicking myself now for not recording Blondie of the Follies. Haven't seen enough Davies, period.

Trish, Girls About Town was in the Film Forum's annual Pre-Code bash but sometimes their selections wend their way to DVD. Warner Archive has Constant Nymph now in what I hear is a very nice remastered edition. I'll be able to say for sure. Rooney is good in all three of the noirs I've seen, but The Strip had all that musician-nightclub stuff and it was irresistible. I thought he was going to look ridiculous playing drums in that kind of company and he didn't at all.

The Siren said...

Mndean, Night World ran the director credit and I muttered, "who?" I still don't know but if I get another chance with a Henley I'll watch. I was so in love with Lilyan Tashman's character in Girls About Town that I wanted her to be my best friend.

Trish said...

"The Captive City" is one of my favourite "B" noirs. One of those films starring an actor we might have first come to know on television -- in this case John Forsythe. I like the relationship between Forsythe's character and his wife. He plays a decent, hard-working reporter, living in a tiny mid-century home. Whenever "The Captive City" is on, I stop everything to watch.

X. Trapnel said...

Siren,

Thanks for the tip on Union Depot (I love train stations real and cinematic). At first this just served to remind me of my determination to see Union Station, but U.D. sounds promising in its own right. The junior Fairbanks is a most underrated actor.

mndean said...

Henley is an odd one to see something like Night World from. He's made a couple of early sound films I've seen with good moments: The Paramount film The Big Pond with Chevalier, Claudette Colbert and some dialogue from Preston Sturges; and a rather silly Warner comedy, Captain Applejack, which runs out of gas but has a good precode dream sequence where John Halliday (of all people) plays a Fairbanks-type swashbuckling pirate, and Mary Brian is a bloodthirsty cabin boy. I've not seen any of Henley's silents, but a couple get decent marks at IMDb.

I've noticed that I've had reactions of the same sort to other directors who don't have great reputations, but brought off a few very good films (ex: Erle Kenton).

VP81955 said...

Wonderful news: TCM is showing "The Constant Nymph" again, at 10 p.m. (Eastern) Jan. 30 as part of a Joan Fontaine salute, in between "Jane Eyre" and the 1950 "Born To Be Bad."

Vanwall said...

Geez, I was getting kinda misty-eyed there for a sec - except for a coupla, this could be a list from a good few weeks TV viewing back when I was a lad. 'Course I didn't know from pre-code or what, these and their of movies were just on TV and I had to watch them, just had to. I caught a lot of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. back then, I've always liked him. "Kiss the Blood Off My Hands" may be the best title, ever, thankfully with a good film to go with it. A few tips to pick up, thank, Siren, and yeah, Lang is just about amazing - scary good for so long.

jim emerson said...

Wow -- so many of these I've never seen (or don't remember, because dementia began setting in during my twenties). "World on a Wire" made me deliriously happy (like re-encountering an old friend) this year, too. I'm making a list of your other discoveries for 2012.

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

I love the way you categorize these- not "classics" or "black and white cinema", just plain Old Movies. And you even include a movie from 1973.

The Siren said...

Bev, the estimable Glenny Kenny had a post once about his (mild) objections to the term "old movies" and I said (or think I said, I can't find it) that I liked the term precisely because it WAS broad and encompassed all sorts of things, the term "classic" being something I'd rather reserve for stuff that's demonstrably good.

Also, avoiding the word "old" reminds me of a dear friend, in his late 70s, at the time, who went to a box office and requested the old-person discount and got told by the preternaturally cheerful ticket seller that they offered discounts for the young at heart or some such. He was far too polite to be rude to someone who was trying to be kind, but he came back complaining that euphemisms like that were what was edging him closer to the grave.

ANYWAY, I've always cheerfully used the term "old movies" and describe my tastes that way quite proudly. Glenn also suggests, though, that we proudly adopt the perjorative "cinecrophilia" and this is where the Siren draws a chalk line across the ballroom floor.

And I don't know whether to look at World on a Wire and say, "hey, almost 40 years, that's definitely old" or compare it to Girls About Town and declare that World on a Wire is barely middle-aged. For sure the Fassbinder is not that old by the standards of this blog, I'll say that. It's probably the most recent film I'd have been willing to include on this list.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I saw Girls About Town eons ago at the little film club Howard mandelabaum and Roger McNiven had in their apartment in New York. We're talkign the pre-home-video era, folks. They found 16mm prints (lord knows where) and screened them for their friends. Howardandroger (one word) were an institurion -- until AIDS came along and decimated the world we all thought we knew.

Girls About Town is one of Mr. Cukor's most exceptionally knowing films. Deliciously sexy, yet elegant. Most pre-code romps were a lot rougher.

And speaking of rough, caught the premiere of Soderbergh's Haywire the other night. Highly reccomended.

Marilyn said...

Farran - Your comment about Marion Davies brought back a film of hers I saw at Silent Summer and forgot about, The Cardboard Lover. You have never seen a woman in more relentless pursuit of a man in your life. She was scary-funny throughout. Highly recommended.

Peter Nellhaus said...

One of the high points for me was the Eclipse Silent Naruse set.

Dragnet Girl is my favorite Ozu, although I wished Panorama had spent a few nickels on something resembling a music track.

Also, William Wellman's Good-Bye, My Lady, maybe the smartest "boy and his dog" movie ever made.

Nothing classic on the big screen in 2011, but I'm considering a scheduled showing of Roman Holiday on that rarest of days, February 29.

The Siren said...

Jim, I loved the ending of World on a Wire, which I didn't see coming at all. Once it got going I was in heaven.

David, I still think one of the best things Vanity Fair ever did was early in the AIDS epidemic, a simple photo array of artists cut down by the disease. I didn't know anyone in it, but it made me think of the people I did. Steve Hayes of Tired Old Queen fame once told me that at the height of the epidemic, he went to more than 20 funerals in one year, each one for a man he had cherished. And Jim Wolcott in Lucking Out also talks about how AIDS killed off a large proportion of such an important part of the arts--the audience.

Marilyn, Davies is such a huge hole in my viewing, period, although I do have Page Miss Glory awaiting me on the DVR and of course I love Show People like everyone else.

Peter, there's an interview with the magnificently curmudgeonly Wellman where he grumbles about Goodbye My Lady getting no love, and he thought it was -- can't remember if he said one of his best, or his best, period. I have a DVD I need to watch. Would probably be a good one for Family Night chez Siren.

Marilyn said...

I've tried twice to watch Going Hollywood, and just couldn't make it work. Davies' physical comedy is so much better than her line deliveries.

The Siren said...

Marilyn, I don't remember having much of an opinion on Davies at all in Going Hollywood. The scene that I loved was Bing Crosby singing "Temptation" to Fifi D'Orsay. And the big title number.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Steve was lucky. I went to 20 funerals in one month.

AIDS is the blackest of Black Holes -- consuming not only individuals but entire histories. I cannot reccomend the documentary of the early days of the epidemic We Were Here strongly enough.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Caught a marvelous Marion Davies comedy on TCm just the other day Five and Ten pairs her with Leslie Howard, and they're indescribably teriffic together. Very light stuff derived from (of all people) Fannie Hurst. And marvelously entertaining.

mndean said...

David E., one of the reasons I sought out Girls About Town was that it was early Cukor with Lilyan and Kay, and I certainly was rewarded for that.

Farran, I've managed to find watchable copies of more than a few of Raoul Walsh's Fox films, including Sailor's Luck. Also some of Gregory La Cava's Paramount silents, of which Womanhandled is unexpectedly hilarious.

You're very fortunate to see classics and obscurities in theater presentations. Alas, I cannot, but I've found DVD sellers who aren't so picky about what they sell :) Oh, I get some duds, but that's part of the game, too.

mndean said...

David E.,
Oh, hell. I wanted to record Five And Ten off TCM, but due to some serious RL duties I totally forgot about the broadcast. It was the only Davies film in the day's set I didn't have.

Karen said...

I enjoyed your list -- so great to see several noirs included! -- and I was especially pleased to see "The Strip" included. The first time I saw it, I was so taken with the song "A Kiss to Build a Dream On," I wrote down every word so I could study and learn it! And I will have step my effort to find "Girls About Town" -- I've been wanting to see it for years.

Kevyn Knox said...

Great call on the Hugo/Union Depot connection. I actually thought the same thing but figured it was mere coincidence since they are both set in...well a depot. But it is true that Scorsese could have been evoking such a film (along with about 378 other films). Of course it could still just all be in our head.

Anyway, you have inspired me to create my own list. It should be posted over at my site sometime tomorrow. I of course link you in the post as my inspiration for such an endeavor. Hope that is okay.

I will send the link along as soon as it is up and running.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I just remembered this great speech form the great Frank O'Hara's play The General Returns From One Place To Another. It was O'Hara's version of genral Douglas MacArthur -- reconcieved as a demented esthete (rather than the fascist blowhard he really was) for the voluminous talents of the great Taylor Mead. In this scene the general is addressing his troops.

"We all know that it takes handling, handling to get anything done, to get anywhere. Now let's take a simple example. Does anyone actually believe that if Marion Davies had ben propery handled she wouldn't have been a bigger star than Norma Shearer? That's what I mean by handling. Handling is taking a poetic, no I'll go further, an optimistic view of reality and -- MAKIGN IT STICK. That girl had everythign (Marion) -- big blue eyes, a gorgeous chassis, a voice -- good God, she made a movie with Bing Crosby didn't she? And what did Norma Shearer have? Well, she was a good enough actress, even a prety one: but whe had a walleye. What happened, you'll ask, and I'll tell you. I've thought this out. I'm not like some Senator on the floor playing with block: what happned is MISMANAGEMENT, or THE HANDLINE WAS WRONG.
Now this problem is the most important one of out time and shoudl be taken up with the UN> It's at the root of what in the Thirties used to be called "All Evil." Well, these are bettwer times, but not much better, and the free peopels of the world had better take all of this into account when deciding the fate of all the free and unfree peopels of the world. I'm not going to go into the career of Louis B. Mayer in the latter connection right now, it's too upsetting.
Anyway, thanks boys and wish me a happy voyage."

VP81955 said...

That made me think of an alternate universe -- not one where Irving Thalberg marries Davies (I can't see him prying her from Hearst, who Marion genuinely loved), but one that almost actually happened, where Irving marries Constance Talmadge. Connie still would have been a big star, maybe even a bigger one, and Thalberg might have persuaded her to make talking films (and under his guidance might have succeeded in them). Certainly Talmadge would be better remembered today, with far fewer of her films lost to time and fire; like Colleen Moore and other comedic actresses of the '20s, she is a subject for further research by many classic film buffs who know of Bow and Davies but hardly any other of their contemporaries.

Yojimboen said...

Karen, dearest, look no further:

Girls About Town

(Probably won’t need the links after Pt One, but just in case…)

Pt One

Pt Two

Pt Three

Pt Four

Pt Five

Pt Six

Ed Howard said...

Love the list, Siren, even though I've only seen ONE movie here - Fassbinder's World on a Wire, which really is a very cool sci-fi/noir blend and a really interesting movie. So many unforgettable compositions in that one.

Lots of others on this list look very promising, too.

Karen said...

Yojimboen, thank you so much! How thoughtful of you. I'm on my way...

Harry K. said...

To scroll upwards a fair degree, I too didn't know the origin of 'Who's Your Little Who-zit.' Up to this point, I only knew it from 'The Stooge' where it's Dean Martin's more or less signature song, from whence I thought it originated.

I should have known better, I always did think it a tad old fashioned for the period.

Kirk said...

Seen three of these: The Constant Nymph, Hallelujah I'm a Bum, and Roughly Speaking. All three were good, but I liked Roughly Speaking the best, mostly because of Jack Carson, who's suburb in it.

Kevyn Knox said...

I just procured a copy of both So Evil My Love and The Constant Nymph. Can not wait to watch.

This is a great list from which to get recommendations.

D Cairns said...

I've seen, and enjoyed, all but four of those films. Those four are going to get watched, starting with So Evil My Love RIGHT NOW!

Kevyn Knox said...

Just watched The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry. Quite intriguing little thing - until the Production Code-forced ending (a la Woman in the Window).

I have decided to remember only up until Miss Fitzgerald closes the door on George Sanders. The five minutes or so after that do not exist.

So there!

Yojimboen said...

You’re welcome, Karen. Though I should point out Girls About Town is nowhere near Kay Francis’ best work. She needed a strong director to make her reach for her top shelf but Cukor wasn’t quite there yet.

Of course he got a lot of credit for the movie, but it wasn’t really merited; neither was What Price Hollywood (where it is rumored Lowell Sherman secretly directed Constance Bennett behind GC’s back). Bill of Divorcement was half okay; Hepburn took Cukor’s direction, though Barrymore ignored it.

But for "Wavishing Kay Fwancis" at her peak, see Trouble in Paradise directed by the genius Lubitsch.

Arthur S. said...

Two older film revelations I discovered last year were Marion Davies' King Vidor comedies - SHOW PEOPLE and THE PATSY. Both of them are masterpieces and Marion Davies is really the only silent comedienne to be as consistently engaging as Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.

Another major one was was Nicholas Ray's WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES. I heard stories of it being a big disaster and then I see it, and all I can say is that it is among Ray's best films. Whatever he directed among the scenes that are left ranks among his most intense and passionate work.

DavidEhrenstein said...

We're giving Chritopher Plummer our Best Supporting Actor prize for Beginners at this friday's Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards dinner and I have every intention of taking the great man aside to ask him about Wind Across the Everglades.

Re Kay Francis, she was a running in-joke between Judy Garland and Mr. Cukor during the shooting of Star is Born. When she gave a line reading that was appropriate and nothing more he'd say "Very Kay Francis." When she went the extra mile -- "Better than Kay Francis."

VP81955 said...

But for "Wavishing Kay Fwancis" at her peak, see Trouble in Paradise directed by the genius Lubitsch.

Or "One-Way Passage," directed by the solid Tay Garnett and one of my personal discoveries for 2011. Anyone for a paradise cocktail?

X. Trapnel said...

"She needed a strong director to make her reach for her top shelf but Cukor wasn’t quite there yet."

Strong, yes, but it's all earthbound calisthenics where Lubitsch is airborne dance.

X. Trapnel said...
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X. Trapnel said...
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Yojimboen said...

Nine point eight, X, for the aerial acrobatics, but let’s not be too hard on Cukor; granted his difference in height with Kay Francis played its part (he was only about 5ft 8 while in heels, KF was almost six feet – her top shelf was indeed higher than he could reach). But I insist Cukor deserves his place in the ‘B’ pantheon alongside people like Garnett, Henry King, Chas Vidor, Goulding, Sidney Franklin, Tim Whelan et al.

I don’t mean to get off on a rant here, but my problem with Cukor has always been that although he did some good yeoman work in the mid to late 30s, he never fully recovered his balance after Selznick fired him off GWTW. To his detriment, he was perfectly willing to take credit for successful movies which were in effect merely filmed plays (Philadelphia Story; Holiday) and to be fair were really writers’ films - three by Philip Barry and six by Garson Kanin.

But worst of all he didn’t know when to leave the stage. It’s not a popular thesis I’ll grant, but a potentially great career was spoiled by later efforts; things like A Star is Born; Les Girls; My Fair Lady are IMO just monstrously bad - inexcusable disasters. Sad.
He coulda been a contender.

Trish said...

Even if Kay Francis is outshone by Lilyan Tashman in "Girls About Town" she has her moments. The expression on her face when she holds her husband's baby is classic Kay.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhfUetm7sOg&feature=related

Trish said...

:O :O :O!!!

Yojimboen, I agree that "My Fair Lady" is monstrously bad -- it's on my all time worst list. But not the other two. Nothing with either James Mason or Mitzi Gaynor can ever be that bad...

X. Trapnel said...

C. Vidor, King, Franklin et al. are more like the third rank, don't you think, Y? Cukor is surely a notch above, but I see nothing in even in his best 30s work that might have effloresced into greatness. It's all so confined by good taste theatricality and a cozy regressiveness (Holiday, my favorite Cukor film, is swaddled in the latter--just compare the shipboard finale to the taxi ride conclusion of Trouble in Paradise. How dated the 1938 film seems compared to the '32 masterpiece).
I sense that had he done Stage Door it would have plumped for
the superiority of the theeyaytah over film, like the original play.

Yojimboen said...

Agreed, Trish. For myself, I’m a great admirer of most of Mason’s work, and no greater fan of Mitzi Gaynor walks this planet. My disappointment was in how their respective talents were largely wasted in the Cukor films: Mason’s on a cliché role way beneath him, and Gaynor’s – at her peak – being brought down by lesser co-stars (I include the aging Gene Kelly who should have known better, and Kay Kendall who, though serene and lovely as a poem, was never a dancer).

I know our hostess has a fondness for Les Girls and I would cut off an appendage rather than hurt her feelings, but overall the movie was just a bad idea from the start.

Jeff Gee said...

I put "World on a Wire" on my Netflix 'saved' list and Netflix suggested that I would like "Mothra."

I mean, I probably would, but still...

wv: spatted.
what I think the Netflix suggestion-bot did at me.

Yojimboen said...

How much do I love the miraculous Mitzi Gaynor (née Francesca Marlene de Czanyi von Gerber)?

On Feb 16 1964 the Beatles made their 2nd appearance on Ed Sullivan.

Also on the bill was this lost gem.

Mitzi’s carefree skirt flip-ups displaying her perfect bottom got her in trouble. Some blue-nose morons complained and got her banned from Sullivan. Plus ça change…

X. Trapnel said...

There's something poignant here in that the Beatles were shortly to expel such performances from the temple.

Kevyn Knox said...

Granted Cukor is no cinematic genius, but I quite liked his version of A Star is Born. It is my favourite version of the story and Cukor's closest thing to greatness. Still though, I would not place him as high as Goulding, Vidor or King.

X. Trapnel said...

I don't think Cukor aims toward greatness so much as perfection within a narrow cinematic/imaginative framework, which is why I think Holiday is his best film. I'm afraid I share Yojimboen's view of later Cukor, ASIB especially, which suffers from the same 50s elephantiasis as afflicted George Stevens.

Shamus said...

I had no idea so many here disliked Cukor. 'Tis marvelous.

For the record, I think that his celebrated ability to somehow coax great performances is also largely overrated: dubious enough when it is appplied to the actresses but Philadelphia Story remains a blight on Stewart's otherwise distinguished career. "You're remarkable, Tracy, you're a virgin goddess, you so-and-so... Holocausts and heart-fires" (Holy Crap!)...

I felt sorry for him.

Mutatis mutandis Rex Harrison.

Shamus said...

...hearth-fires."

Yeah, I may have made an unintentionally funny speech even more incomprehensible.

X. Trapnel said...

This may be the Philip Barry problem. Or it may be Donald Ogden Stewart, Cukor house screenwriter, who gave us, "Some symphonies; most concertos."

Shamus said...

In any case, Cukor ought to have known better than to leave it in. But this is entirely in keeping with the theatrical nature of his direction: dialogue heavy films, a general lack of visual expressiveness and over-the-top performances.

X. Trapnel said...

Couldn't agree more, but this is what passed for classy dialogue in some quarters. In this regard, J. Mankiewicz would become Cukor on steroids.

Shamus said...

Maybe the later Mank, but I think early Mankiewicz writing was excellent- sometimes almost as good as Hecht or Wilder/Brackett or Raphaelson.

But its no surprise that Mankiewicz produced Philadelphia Story. The essential approach to film - as a simple documentary of what happens on MGM backlots with all the helpful camera angles to ensure that you don't miss anything - remains the same.

The Siren said...

Gentlemen! Don't make me repost my review of What Price Hollywood?. Or write a REALLY LONG review of Les GIrls that mentions it's MITZI'S BEST ROLE. Don't make me do that. Or write up Dinner at Eight, in which I would defend Harlow AND Cukor...

Dan Leo said...

I caught Girls About Town this past year too, and, yes, Tashman totally rocked.

And you know how I feel about La Dors...

Carole said...

I have also made a list of favorite old movies (although mine aren't quite as venerable as yours) This was the last in a series of posts about them. http://caroleschatter.blogspot.co.nz/2012/01/movies-to-re-watch-sometime-part-viii.html