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.