Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Saturday at the Movies

I was feeling a little bit of a breeze from the Oscar buzz, and decided to compile my own list of movies—the good, the bad, and the quotable. Just for fun. Besides, some day I may need to start my own library, and it is good to have a plan in place for such exigencies.

It should be said for starters, that this is a woefully incomplete list. I have not put down all the movies that should be here, nor even all the ones I’ve watched that should be here. These are the ones I could come up with, without too much waste of time and effort—and there are enough of them!

A few notes for the quibblers. (1) Read the headings carefully. There is a difference between what I like and what I think is objectively worthy of respect. (2) I have not bothered to keep filmed plays, movies made for television, tv shows, etc., off this list. If I enjoyed it, I’m not particularly worried about how it aired originally. (3) Because my viewing skews towards older movies, so does this list. I do suspect, even if my viewing were more “regular”, that both the movies I like and the ones I consider objectively worth while would tend to be older (say, pre 1970). But that is just a suspicion. (4) As I said before, this list is incomplete. If a movie isn’t on here, it’s very possible that I didn’t like or hate it enough to put it down , but it’s also possible that I haven’t seen it (and it may even be on my “must-see” list). There are only so many hours in a day.

Yes, I do love them, and I think they’re great.
By great here, I do not mean “full of significant themes,” although that’s sometimes a help. Nor do I mean that it’s flawless or perfect—there are “perfect” movies that completely lack heart and logic. In fact, I don’t really know what I mean by “great”. However, to save myself from being accused of laziness, I will throw out an off-the-top-of-the-head definition: a great movie is one which presents a believable universe (however whacky) populated by characters that are equally believable and fascinating (although they may live evil or ordinary lives), and its story coherently. In short, a great movie casts a deep spell, and takes infinite care not to break it. In no particular order . . .

It’s a Wonderful Life
A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott. Not that the other versions aren’t good, nor that this hasn’t its flaws, but . . .)
High Noon and Rio Bravo (Yes, both of them. If I had to, had to pick . . . Rio Bravo is better.)
Holiday Inn
The Philadelphia Story
Ocean’s Eleven (1960. The first, the one, the only. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, Peter Lawford, and a coffin full of cash.)
Pat and Mike
To Sir, with Love
Christmas in Connecticut
Yankee Doodle Dandy
To Catch a Thief
The Scarlet and the Black (Peck v. Plummer—based on a true story)
The Bishop’s Wife
Ben Hur
Singin’ in the Rain
The Ten Commandments (1956)
A Man for All Seasons (Paul Scofield)
Sergeant York (1941, Gary Cooper)
Jane Eyre (1944, Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine. Fontaine is acceptable, but Welles is Rochester, now and forever. Not even George C. Scott did him better [though Scott was at a disadvantage, being twenty years too old for his role].)
The Four Feathers (1939, John Clements, Ralph Richardson, June Duprez. This is the real version; accept no substitutes. So many good lines . . . “Jumpy dance, the polka.” “There should be a fourth feather here.” “If I thought you were a coward, I would take this gun with me.” “You are a very brave man.” “Why would he try to rob me?” And, of course: “There were the Russians: guns, guns, guns. And the British infantry! the thin red line. There was the commander in chief. And there was I, at the head of the old 68th!”)
Kismet (1955)

OK, they’re not great, but they’re pretty good and I love—or at least like—them.
The Thin Man
The Shop Around the Corner
Bringing Up Baby
The Sound of Music
On the Waterfront (You think this is a great movie? Well, I won’t argue.)
The Magnificent Seven
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Now if only the Republican party would grow a spine like that . . . and the Pelosi could pull out her concealed weapon, and . . . but I digress. Jimmy Stewart is perfect, and Jean Arthur shines in a role that is perfect for her. Ditto Claude Rains. Yes, they’re all playing to their stereotypes. Scene where the coin lands on its edge: classic.)
Robin Hood (Errol Flynn is Robin Hood; and Claude Rains is Prince John; and Olivia de Havilland is Maid Marion, and . . .)
The Court Jester (Satire is an art form. Even when the original doesn’t deserve it.)
La Belle et la Bete (1946. Yes, a foreign film! I do watch a few of them—but only a few. The best version, to my knowledge, of the Beauty and the Beast story. Check out where Disney got not only the candelabras, but also the character of Gaston (here named Avenant). There’s an extremely interesting twist with him at the end, that Disney completely overlooks. Too subtle for kids, I guess . . .)
The Road to Morocco (The best of the series.)
Here Comes the Groom (Two words: (1) "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening", (2) Alexis Smith’s ankles.)
Angels in the Outfield (1950s version, please!)
High Society (v. The Philadelphia Story? Hard. But I think I’ll stay in Philadelphia. Celeste Holm is terrific, Crosby is sweet, and I love the songs; but for the rest . . .)
The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars as it ought to be. Episode IV comes a close second, VI falls short of the two; and I-III don’t bear watching.)
Roman Holiday (Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn. Sweet, sad, and funny, with two of the best and most beautiful actors ever to enter Hollywood.)
Sabrina (Hepburn, Bogart. Why they ever remade this is beyond me.)
Little Women (1933, Katherine Hepburn=Joe March)
Woman of the Year (Swallow your pride, you feminists. She had it coming.)
The Mortal Storm
Rear Window
The Man Who Knew Too Much (Stewart, Day. Incidentally, also the title of a Chesterton story collection.)
Quo Vadis (Because every Roman soldier should have an American accent, and every Christian a sweet mid-Atlantic one. Besides, what’s not to like in a movie with Buddy Baer twisting the necks off of oxen, Leo Glenn dissing emperors, and Peter Ustinov saving tears? Now this is a Christian film.)
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (Another “Christian film”.)
An Affair to Remember (Kerr, Grant version. “Chick flick” becomes an art form.)
Summer Stock
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Holiday Affair (See comment on An Affair to Remember.)
North by Northwest
I Confess (If you’re not a practicing Catholic, chances are you won’t get it.)
The Trouble with Harry (Nothing happens, and it doesn’t happen so beautifully. Edmund Gwynn’s sole "romantic" role.)
Torn Curtain (Just skip the first scene, and you’re good from then on.)
The Talk of the Town
Arsenic and Old Lace (Creepy, yes—too creepy. But Cary Grant is at his best and most hilarious.)
Houseboat (Grant and Loren)
Father Goose
Walk, Don’t Run (Modern movies could learn a few lessons in restraint from this wrong-wedding comedy. Funny, edgy, but ultimately clean. Cary Grant plays Cupid (as opposed to Casanova) in his last movie role.)
Easter Parade
The Major and the Minor (This almost went under “probably bad”—almost.)
Cinderella (1965. Ginger Rodgers, Walter Pigeon, Celeste Holm—who cares who’s playing the leads?)
The Fiction Makers (Roger Moore as The Saint. “Brilliant!” I refuse to believe that this is a bad movie. Just refuse.)
Daddy Long Legs (See comment on The Fiction Makers. But in this case, I will understand if you disagree.)
Howl’s Moving Castle
Come to the Stable
Cheaper by the Dozen (1950)
Kiss Me Kate
Now, Voyager
Since You Went Away (Best ever movie of war on the home front.)
Murder at the Gallop and
Murder, She Said (Yeah, Margaret Rutherford!)
Damn Yankees
A Night at the Opera and
A Day at the Races
Anastasia (1956, Kerr, Bynner)
The Rare Breed (Stewart, O’Hara)
The Brothers Karamazov (1958, Yul Brynner. Yes, it’s Hollywoodized; but until a better version of Dostoyevski’s greatest novel comes along . . .)
Much Ado About Nothing (BBC, 1984. Beats Branaugh hollow, with one single, sorry exception: Denzel Washington is a way better Don Pedro than Jon Finch. What might have been . . .)
The Incredibles (Forget the supposed conservative/libertarian message. It’s good, it’s funny; so we can all agree to like it. And the accompanying short with Mozart’s “Dies Irae” in the soundtrack is pure genius.)
Robin Hood (Disney, 1973)
Davy Crockett (1955, Fess Parker. The first—and probably the best—PG movie I ever saw.)
The Sword in the Stone (Disney, 1963. Way lighter than T.H. White’s source material—which is not to criticize either the movie or the book.)
Mary Poppins (I don’t care about Dick Van Dyck’s accent. I don’t care for it either. The movie as a whole—including Van Dyck—is wonderful. Go fly a kite!)
The Jungle Book (Disney, 1967. Whoever decided to cast Phil Harris was a genius. They used him to voice a bear again in Robin Hood (1973).)
Spitfire (1942, British title: The First of the Few; Leslie Howard, David Niven. Based on a true story.)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934, Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon, Raymond Massey)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982, Anthony Andrews, Ian McKellan, Jane Seymour. I absolutely and categorically refuse to choose between these two versions. They are distinct, similar stories but different takes on the characters (especially McKellan’s almost sympathetic Chauvelin as compared to Massey’s utterly nasty one); but both are delightful. Incidentally, Orczy’s novel is (comparatively speaking) a waste of time.)
My Fair Lady (1964. Sorry, Shaw, and all you nay-sayers out there. We know Eliza and the Professor belong together—even if he is forty-five years older than her. OK, Mr. Harrison—twenty years then.)
Storm in a Teacup (1937, Rex Harrison, Vivian Leigh. You were wondering how Harrison got that role in MFL? Well, he had actually been quite an attractive leading man in the not too distant past.)
The Music Man (Robert Preston is it. But there is not a single cast member in this movie that hits a wrong note—with the possible exception of Timy Everett and Susan Lucky as Tommy Djilas and Zaneeta Shinn, respectively. Oh, and “Being in Love” beats “My White Knight” with half its notes tied behind its back.)
Oklahoma (1955. Imperfect—perhaps too perfect? too pretty?—but well worth watching.)
Richard III (1955, Lawrence Olivier. For those of you who find Olivier a touch too—well—snobbish, and wish you had some dirt on him, Wikipedia offers the following information: Olivier’s first known performance, in 1920, on stage at the age of not quite thirteen, was as Katherine in Taming of the Shrew. I kid you not. Whether Wiki is kidding us or not . . . I haven’t done the research to know.)
Wuthering Heights (Lawrence Olivier, Merle Oberon. I don’t even like this story—in fact, I hate it. That’s how good the movie is.)
Alias Smith and Jones, pilot episode. (It’s a crying shame this series only lasted a couple seasons. Not all the episodes are great, but the pilot stands out as being very, very funny (in a Support Your Local Sheriff kind of way—so if you don’t like that humor, forget it).)
Support Your Local Sheriff (. . . speaking of which . . . It’s James Garner that pulls off this spoof of every serious western ever. And let’s not forget Walter Brennan as the conniving evil yellow dog of a family patriarch.)
Anne of Green Gables (That’s Anne with an e, otherwise known as Megan Follows. (And for proof that Follows can do heavy drama too, check out the Canadian Stratford Festival’s 1992 Romeo and Juliet, where Follows (at age 24, just a few months after giving birth to a daughter) convincingly plays the fourteen-year old heroine.) The supporting cast of Anne is also mostly quite good. The one blot upon this otherwise engaging movie? Gilbert Blyth, played—I use the term loosely—by Jonathan Crombie. He has three expressions: amusement, amazement, and lovesickness; and they are all intolerable. (His performance only gets worse (and Follow’s declines) in Anne of Avonlea.) It’s rather a shame. Part of the fun of stories like this one (a delight that Jane Austen taps in Emma and Arthur Conan Doyle, in a very different way, with Watson) is when the reader/viewer knows better than character what is going forward. In the books we all know Anne will end up with Gilbert—and because he really deserves her, we’re rooting for him, and laughing at her, a fair amount of the time. (Gritting our teeth too, but that’s also part of the fun, just as some people (claim to) enjoy being frightened by horror movies.) But when Gilbert is simply a sap . . . well, one understands Anne’s initial attitude, and is pained by the knowledge that it will, inevitably, change.)
Chariots of Fire (Cheesy soundtrack—that sticks in your head. Great story. They do stretch the historical truth a bit, but its close enough to the facts not to break your heart when you learn them. Best inside joke: (as the Jewish Abrahams exits): “He won’t be going to chapel. What’s your name?” “Aubrey Montague.” (Cross’s character is Jewish at an Anglican university; Montague (played by Nicholas Farrell; see Nunn’s Twelfth Night, Branaugh’s Hamlet, and also the 1983 Mansfield Park) is a Catholic with a very Catholic name. No surprise that (in the movie anyway) the two become friends . . .)
Hoosiers (1986. Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper. Good, though not really based on a true story. Not one to be watched with the kids.)
Strong Poison, Have His Carcass, Gaudy Night (Edward Petherbridge, Harriet Walters. Personally, I always end up fast-forwarding the murder scenes in HHC. Even without that precaution, these movies also are not for kids. Regrets: see my Gone with the Wind commentary; in addition, Gaudy Night would have benefitted from a longer treatment. These are TV quality, so don’t raise your expectations too high.)
Mansfield Park (1983. After making two references to it, I have to put it down. Although Sylvestra Le Touzel is not my ideal Fanny Price (and actually manages to irritate me at times), she is by far the best of the actresses who’ve attempted the role—largely due to the fact that she’s working from a script that approximates Austen’s ideas for the character. Bernard Hepton, Angel Pleasance, Nicholas Farrell. Robert Burbage and Jacki Smith-Wood steal nearly every scene they are in as the conniving Crawfords—just like in the book! But best scene in the whole movie? Where Edmund tells Fanny of his last meeting with Mary Crawford. It’s a letter in the book; here, he tells her in person. Incidentally, Mrs. Norris is played by Anna Massey, CBE, who is, indeed, Raymond Massey’s daughter. Definitely a family resemblance there.)
Pride and Prejudice (Now, for a spate of Austen films. I refer, of course, to the great 1995 Pride and Prejudice which, with all its flaws, is the best and for now the definitive version. The 1980 with Elizabeth Garvie is not bad—and Garvie looks much more like Austen’s heroine than Ehle does! and can actually sing—but otherwise 1995 wins hands down. You said something about a girl named Knightley? Knightley who? Is this some relation to Mr. Knightly?)
Emma (1972) and Emma (1996—Beckinsdale and Strong). (Choices, choices, choices. First, I have not seen the 2009 serial—so who knows whether that would have displaced both or either of these. That said—I have seen the Paltrow Emma, also from 1996. Great trailer—it takes the best moments of the movie and puts them all into a five minute slot. But for the two versions I prefer: neither is perfect. I have yet to see a Mr. Knightly that I like. John Carson (1972) is closest to the spirit of the character, but he is ten or fifteen years too old—as is Doran Godwin too old for Emma. Kate Beckinsdale is just about right as Emma—but then Mark Strong is just a cranky whiner. ’72 sticks very close to the book (although it inexplicably leaves Jane Fairfax out of the Box Hill scene); ’96 offers a fair abridgment, but plays too much with the social aspect of the story to be perfectly true to Austen. Both worth watching—although I offer the ’72 with the usual Brit caveat: be prepared for some very plain actors.)
Persuasion (1971, Firbank and Marshall; 1995, Root and Hinds). (Don’t do the 2007. Just don’t. It is wrong in so many ways that I won’t even begin. For the other two: 1971 is deeply flawed, and often tacky. That said, I still watch it and enjoy it. It probably belongs on the “bad—but I love them anyway” list, but I put it here for comparison. The 1995 version is much smoother, although—sorry! it has music that I loathe, and is sadly short. Still, a much better job on the abridging than one usually sees.)
Sense and Sensibility (1995, Thompson/Lee; 2008, Davies). (This is a rare case where I will not go with the oldest version. The early (1981) BBC serial has nothing to recommend it—except for Bosco Hogan (what a name!) as an excellent Edward Ferrars. Of the later two: Hugh Grant in 1995 is a huge downside; but everyone else in the cast is great. (Does the greedy Mrs. John Dashwood look familiar? Yep, she’s Harriet Walters from the Lord Peter series.) Of the 2008—it suffers from Davies’ recurrent desire to over-sex Austen (and everything else, for that matter), but otherwise is OK. Again, a nice Edward (but then, anyone would work in that role after H.G.).)
Northanger Abbey (There is no good version. No, none. Sorry, folks. While the 2007 version with Felicity Jones and J.J. Feild was perfectly cast (all the way down to the former Fanny Price, Sylvestra LeTouzel, as Mrs. Allen!) it had too much of a focus on . . . shall we say . . . the adolescent elements of the story? Watch it once (ladies only, please—not that the gents will care to, most likely) and keep your finger near the forward button. As for the 1986 version—just don’t.)
Bleak House (2005. The only version I’ve seen, so I can’t compare. Ripping. Watch out for Carey Mulligan (of the 2005 P&P and the 2007 Northanger) as Ada Clare, and for Ana Maxwell Martin (Bessie Higgins from the 2004 North and South) as Esther Summerson. Deviations from the book: primarily with regard to Esther’s character, who is far tougher and less self-doubting than the Esther Dickens wrote. Not a complaint, just a comment.)
It Happened One Night (I’m not a fan of either Gable or Colbert usually. But somehow, with this story . . .)
Hello, Dolly! (Gene Kelly directed. Good songs, a few funny lines, and, sadly, Michael Crawford. If I’d known he also helped create the role of the Phantom, I’d have approached this movie much, much more cautiously.)
The Barchester Chronicles (1982. See real life father and daughter Donald and Angela Pleasance. (Where have you seen Angela before? As the wonderfully spineless and inbred Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park.) Delightful, once you get used to the fact that the English do not demand beauty of their actors and actresses. Alan Rickman’s debut role as a wonderfully slimy Obadiah Slope. “May you live forever!”)

So they’re probably bad—but I love them anyway.
These movies do manage to cast a spell, even if it’s only the sort of spell that enables Tatiana to fall for a donkey’s head.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Just plain silly. And much happier than Thurber’s stories—not bad, but different.)
The Inspector General (So they gutted Chekov. So?)
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (And they gutted Twain. In my humble opinion, not a bad thing.)
White Christmas (I think it’s funny. And most of the songs are good. So it’s a non-story . . . do we really need an excuse to watch Bing, Danny, Vera, and Rosemary for two and a half hours?)
Robin and the Seven Hoods (Speaking of funny . . . the revival scene is one of the best ten-minutes of movie-making I’ve seen. A non-musical that a lot of musicals could learn from. The Rat Pack and Bing Crosby, plus, the inimitable Peter Faulk (of Columbo and The Princess Bride) as the villainous Guy Gisborn.)
What a Way to Go (The only movie on this list I will not watch in mixed company. Yeah, Dean Martin!)
Rose Marie (Nelson Eddie can’t act, but this is about as close as he gets. Jeanette McDonald could, but this isn’t her best. The real reason this is here? Jimmy Stewart. “It’s not good, but it’s a reason.” (And if you can pin down that quote, I will give you a medal.) See also After the Thin Man [not on this list].)
Navy Blue and Gold (A former navy officer described this movie as “complete hokum.” I accept his judgment. That doesn’t mean a hefty dose of hokum is always a bad thing . . .)
Two Weeks with Love (Well, if Navy Blue and Gold was hokum, I don’t know what this is. I can’t think of a single male acquaintance who would enjoy it; and even many members of my own sex will find it intolerably silly. It is silly; that’s the point. It’s a comedy—really a farce—about teenagers’ romantic delusions. Don’t let the “happy ending” fool you; this movie was made to be laughed at.)
Ball of Fire (Stanwick and Cooper. Quiet professor meets ganster’s moll. She’s hiding out; he’s writing an article on slang. Look for S.Z. Sakall as another professor, Dana Andrews as the gangster, and drummer Gene Krupa as . . . well, a drummer.)
The Student Prince (Fan of Lanza’s voice or not, with a song titled “Drink, Drink, Drink” how can you not love this movie? Besides, you have Anne Blyth, Edmund Gwynn, and S.Z. Sakall supporting.)
Pirates of Penzance (Kevin Kline, Linda Rondstadt, and Angela Lansbury. Rex Smith is Frederick as Frederick was meant to be—incredibly vain, childish, and funny. Kline and Lansbury dominate every scene they’re in. Sullivan is probably rolling over in his grave. Gilbert is probably dying laughing. Let’s hope he makes it to heaven this time.)
Mary of Scotland (Hepburn, March. No history, just a hefty costume drama, with equally hefty acting (overacting?) from the two leads.)
Pride and Prejudice (1940. No, it’s not Jane Austen. It’s not historically accurate. I’m not even saying it’s a good movie. But Garson and Olivier come close to making it one. See below for my regrets that Leslie Howard never got to play Lord Peter. One of my other eternal regrets is that Lawrence Olivier didn’t get a better script for this role. He is Mr. Darcy.)
Around the World in Eighty Days (1956. Cameo, o cameo, oh, who can spot the cameos? Everyone from Hermione Gingold to Charles Boyer to Frank Sinatra. Surprisingly good—perhaps mostly because everyone says it’s overrated.)
The Desert Song (1953. Two words: “Candied lizard.” Look for Raymond Massey as the villain, and Ray Collins (Perry Mason’s very own Lt. Tragg) as the American general.)
The Man from Snowy River (1982. This movie had its “Noooooo!” moment two years after The Empire Strikes Back. Hm. I guess it was already iconic. American cheese (OK, Australian), but sometimes that’s what the heart wants.)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (Michael Caine. ’Nuff said. Although . . . fans of Brit costume drama should check it out for an early glance at Steve (billed as Steven) Makintosh (Our Mutual Friend (all thumbs up), Lady Audrey’s Secret (ditto down)) and Raymond Coulthard (Frank Churchill in the Beckinsdale/Strong Emma, 1996).)
Beau Geste (1939, Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Robert Preston)

I’m deciding.
These and the movies that I saw too long ago, or saw while half asleep, or saw but found myself very conflicted about afterwards. Maybe I love them and hate them.

The Chalk Garden
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
The Dark Knight
The Bridges at Toko-Ri
The Keys of the Kingdom
Anne of the Thousand Days
The Manchurian Candidate (1962, of course)
Much Ado About Nothing (Branaugh’s)
Les Miserables (Neeson)

Great or not, never again. Life is just too short.
You can tell the degree of my hatred by the length of the comments. Again, I don’t necessarily say these movies are bad. I wish I could though . . .

Gone With the Wind (Beautiful, beautiful movie. But—“I still have Tara”? Really? I sat four hours to see a spoiled brat make a mess of her life and the lives of others, only to end up—not even happy herself, but lying to convince herself that she was? Whose idea was this anyway? (Yes, yes, I know, Margaret Mitchell’s.) Actually, the worst thing about this movie is more people probably see Leslie Howard in his role as Ashley Wilkes than in any of his other roles—possibly than in all of them put together. Which, considering the absolute spineless stupidity of his character here, and contrasting it with the usual heroic and humorous types he played (not to mention his excellent Henry Higgins in Pygmalion)—is a crying shame. Another crying shame? That Howard died too early to play Lord Peter Wimsey (although Edward Petherbridge is not a bad substitute); the role would have fit him like a glove.)
His Girl Friday (Witty? Yes. Satisfying? Absolutely not. Pointed? Like a knife. It leaves holes in the viewer, and does nothing to stitch him up.)
Beauty and the Beast (Disney. OK, so the songs are good . . . I just couldn’t like Belle, or the changes they made to the story. If the Beast had kept his voice after the transformation . . . I just might not have blacklisted this. Trivial, I know, but it tipped me over the edge of indifference and into the slough of detestation.)
The Lord of the Rings (Without having loved the book, this just would not have made it onto any of these lists. As a film—mediocre. But having read the book, I feel a need to protest. So much great dialogue! So little preserved. So many noble characters! So few portrayed. When I find myself liking Boromir best out of everyone in the movies (he actually had two dimensions, see), I know something’s wrong. I think dear Peter Jackson gets moral ambiguity (and so portrays struggles very well), and does not get the triumph of virtue (notice what they did to Faramir? Anyone?). I’m waiting on the remake. I predict one within my lifetime.)
The Children’s Hour (First off, just personal opinion here, but any movie that attempts to play James Garner as weak is just not going to work for me. (I don’t know what he was in real life, and frankly don’t give a Gable.) That personal aside being, well, aside, I found this movie irritating on multiple levels. First off, the bad guys win. Yes, in any movie where Shirley MacLaine commits suicide leading to great distress all round—I consider that the bad guys have won. Second, the ending is neither happy nor edifying, and it attempts to be both (just look at Audrey Hepburn’s face). If you’re going to kill me with crying, don’t muck it up by pretending we are all strong and good now. Just let me cry. Third, there is a perfectly good poem by Longfellow with the same title. Fourth and finally (and this is the movie’s real sin), I couldn’t find myself believing in the story at all. I suspect the reason for that is twofold: first, because I live in an age and place and segment of society where shunning homosexuals is practically unthinkable; and second, because I actually disapprove of homosexuality. For MacLain’s character, I can feel pity (and that is a tribute to her acting). For the story as a whole, I can only muster—disbelief.
Adam’s Rib (Spencer Tracy cries. That is the best moment of the movie. Too bad you have to wait two hours to see it.)
The Lady Eve (I want to see her punished. Now.)
Double Indemnity (OK, I see why this is considered a great film noir. Just for the record, I don’t like film noir.)
The Maltese Falcon (Great cast . . . but . . . I couldn’t care less about a single character. No, I didn’t even care enough to hate any of them. So, I settle for hating the movie instead.)
Rebecca (The only good thing I have to say about this movie is (no spoilers) it removed a certain moral ambiguity present in the novel. Oh, and George Sanders gets to be his usual deliciously oily self.)
Blue Skies (If they cut out the whole story, and just left in (some of) the musical numbers, this would be an excellent music video.)
How Green Was My Valley (And the point was . . . ?)
The Phantom of the Opera (OK, so let’s take an Unredeemable Character; create a huge amount of sympathy for him, giving him a horrible life and childhood and making the gorgeous “heroine” fall for him; run The Unreedemable up against a foppish so-called hero; and then kill The Unreedemable as he does his noblest deed for the “hero” and “heroine”. Oh, and end the movie—not with love triumphant, but with the “hero” mourning the (quite timely) death of his wife, with the implication that she still loved The Unreedemable to her dying day (and vice versa) with a love that lives on and cannot be matched by the love of the “hero” and “heroine”. Did I get all that from one rose? You bet. Was I annoyed? Yes, very; how could you tell?)
Princess Mononoke (No comment.)
Twelfth Night (Trevor Nunn. The reasons for this are complex, and would require an essay by itself.)
Henry V (Branaugh. Twice was once too often. Non nobis, domine, tuota sanguinis. Besides, I lean towards a less Machiavellian interpretation of Shakespeare’s play.)
Carousel (I know, it’s the deepest Rogers and Hammerstein got. I prefer their surface.)
The Fountainhead (Not even Gary Cooper could save Ayn Rand’s soul.)
Morrocco (Gary Cooper, Marlene Deitrich. No reason why I hate this film, I just do.)
As You Like It (1936, Lawrence Olivier, Elizabeth Bergner. Absolutely awful—mostly Bergner’s fault, but also the fault of whoever snipped and directed.)
The Passion of the Christ (Best part: the flashbacks. Skillfully made, yes; but all three times I saw it I never watched more than about half. There was just no need for this degree of violence—not for me, at any rate.)
Miss Congeniality (Yeah. So we go from being a harridan to a slut—and I use the word advisedly. Funny moments, yes; real courage, yes; a few good morals, yes; final judgment: incapable of redeeming itself from the vices of the culture that made it. Were is not for the “It’s just a date” sequence at the very end, this might—might, mind you—have stayed off the blacklist.)
The Village (Sooooo . . . inbreeding is bad. Check. But hey, we’re all going to stay here anyways! Yeah. In a culture that will probably breed (oops! that word again) more problems than the one we left. I mean, we already have some psychotic elders killing animals. Not to mention a Big Lie that even Plato would have cringed at. Truth? Schmooth. Ah, yes, true love wins out. Well yah can’t miss all the baskets!)
The Matrix (Um . . . there were guns. And lots and lots of glass breaking. I didn’t watch a lot of it. People had plugs in the back of their heads. And the Messiah, although he would have been an improvement on Obama, packed nothing like the punch of a Jim Caveziel, or even a Christian Bale . . .)
A Knight’s Tale (Well, at last I know the origin of the song “We Will Rock You.” Let’s get the positives out there first: Heath Ledger is very good looking, once he loses the dreads; and the overarching message and plot-line—you can achieve your dreams—is moving. The scene where the Black Prince sets William free is terrific—as is that whole subplot between the two of them. Also, I found myself genuinely laughing at some of the jokes—which is unusual with a modern movie. Now that we’ve been nice . . . For starters, any movie with naked men in it is pretty much off my list. A few seconds—I can fast forward. A recurring plot device—gets inconvenient. Then there’s William and Jocelyn’s night out (approved by Chaucer, mais oui). Then there’s the feminism (a woman blacksmith? c’mon, guys). Then there’s the anti-Catholicism (the love scene in the cathedral; the clerics telling Jocelyn off because she’s cute). There are also the hairstyles, the costumes, and the music—but I won’t be petty here. There's so much other ammunition! Finally, I found myself wondering, even as I got that nice little surge of happy adrenaline at the end, was it really worth it? Sure, William’s got grit—and courage is a virtue badly needed in today’s world. But courage for what? He wants to be a knight. He wants what he wants. He doesn’t stoop to villainy to get it—and we’re supposed to root for him because his opponent does stoop? Sounds like a remake of . . . oh, maybe The Fountainhead? Actually, now that I think about it, there are more than a few similarities there . . . But it’s obviously too late for me to be doing this. Goodnight, and happy watching.)


  1. Fun little movie hint for you. The DVD of Christmas in Connecticut has a wonderful short vintage Christmas film (Oscar Winning) in the Special Features called "Star in the Night".

    Thanks for the interesting list!

  2. I'll have to check that out. Anytime!

  3. Greetings:

    I came upon your pages while browsing profiles linked to "The Man Who Was Thursday", and could not help stopping by to meet The Girl Who Was Saturday.

    You've a keen eye for film, and I must say that the quality of your commentary not only does justice to the works you review, but also makes one eager to visit the A/V shelves of his public library.

    With that said, I'll chime in on two of my favorite books turned film.

    As a true blue Tolkien fan, I always feel vindicated upon meeting others who found the films as odious as I did. And yes, Faramir in particular. The assassination of his character simultaneously led to a plot deviation that made for the most ridiculous scene in Jackson's entire trilogy. As if watching Faramir decide to take the ring back to Minas Tirith (sheer nonsense) was not bad enough, we then had to endure Frodo trying to make a gift of the ring to the Nazgul--which Faramir somehow manages to ward off with single arrow. Right. One of the most powerful forces of evil in Middle Earth--a being no man can kill and whose sole purpose is to secure the ring--finds that ring offered up freely, but decides instead to fly off on account of a single arrow. Mmm-hmmm. Nice one. Next time stick to the script.

    Also, the version of Les Miserables with Liam Neeson as Valjean has it's moments. Both Valjean and Javert (Geoffrey Rush) were well cast, but the film utterly fails when it comes to Valjean's relationship with Fontine. Hollywood, it seems, simply cannot comprehend a relationship between a man and woman based purely on benevolence and charity, and so they have to trump upon some sort of romantic motivation to help explain Valjean's selflessness towards her. Again, leave what is already brilliant alone. Why some feel they simply must tinker with the genius of others is beyond me. Imitation please, not adaptation.

    Keep up the fine work!

  4. Thanks for the comments. I had forgotten the bit about Frodo offering up the ring . . . it's been a while since I watched that trilogy . . . but yes, it drove me crazy too at the time. It's especially nice to find another Tolkien-book-yes-movie-no fan, since I just had a heated argument with my boss, who happens to be a movie-yes-book-no fan!

    Not having read Les Miserables--yes, it's on my list--I can't comment on that. It would be typical of Hollywood, though, which seems bent on finding romance in the darnedest places, and forcing all friendship and affection (and yes, charity too) to turn out to be eros in disguise.

    Thanks again!

  5. Oh my, your poor boss. While I can sympathize with those who enjoyed both the book and the film, how someone who has actually taken the time to read the book could still prefer Jackson's adaptation is beyond me. Oh well, here is a bit of amunition for your debate care of W.H. Auden who had this to say of the Lord of the Rings critics:

    "If someone dislikes it I shall never trust their literary judgement about anything again."

    P.S. Why Saturday, or is there a post somewhere which explains?

  6. Oh, no, no; you don't know my boss. These debates are pretty equal. Except, of course, that I am always right. Nice to know Auden agrees with me here . . .

    Why Saturday? I've actually been meaning to do a post about that, but haven't gotten around to it. Briefly: Saturday (as in the young doctor in Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday") represents the creation of human beings and (punningly) the creations of human beings. Hence, in blogging (in a sometimes vaguely Chestertonian way) about cultural questions--particularly about what Tolkien would have called "sub-creation"--it seemed appropriate to take Saturday as a sort of mythical patron. Besides that, I just happen to like the doctor's character.

    (I started to elaborate on that last point, and realized this comment would turn into a post if I did.)

  7. Hooray for mythical patrons! Though in all honesty, I am not unconvinced that my Guardian Angel's name is Bilbo Baggins ;o)

  8. ["Emma (1972) and Emma (1996—Beckinsdale and Strong). (Choices, choices, choices. First, I have not seen the 2009 serial—so who knows whether that would have displaced both or either of these. That said—I have seen the Paltrow Emma, also from 1996. Great trailer—it takes the best moments of the movie and puts them all into a five minute slot. But for the two versions I prefer: neither is perfect. I have yet to see a Mr. Knightly that I like. John Carson (1972) is closest to the spirit of the character, but he is ten or fifteen years too old—as is Doran Godwin too old for Emma. Kate Beckinsdale is just about right as Emma—but then Mark Strong is just a cranky whiner. "]

    I think that Kate Beckinsale as Emma is rather overrated. I found her performance rather bitchy and slightly cold. She knows how to convey humor, but only when the character is not that flawed. Her Emma did not have much of a sense of humor or comic timing. Like Doran Godwin in the 1972, she came off as a touch too chilly and smug.

  9. You're right; Kate Beckinsale is overrated as Emma--though I'd hold out for her as better than the alternatives.

    Now I did write this before I saw the 2009 miniseries. I liked Romola Garai's personality much better--she just came off as being a much nicer person, and more like what I think Emma really is, than Beckinsale or Godwin. That said . . . her 20th (21st?) century mannerisms were just too much for me . . .

    What can I say? The definitive _Emma_ has yet to be filmed.

  10. *grins* Scott's 'Christmas Carol was by far the best. And as I tend to be rather....a perfectionist when it comes to adapting films from books, any adaptations that manage to make me forget the errors is well worth it.

    And this list would have been immensely useful a fortnight ago when I began to make time to watch the older films - as it is, I'm glad to see that anyone else has watched and enjoyed these!!!!!

    *grins* Leslie Howard would have been perfect as Lord Wimsey (how I even found this post to begin with...). Wimsey did remind me much of Howard and Professor Smith and his Blakeney and his Tracy. It did help that I just finished a marathon of nearly all of his available films, so it carried over immensely...

    But Leslie Howard played in 'Gone with the Wind'?? No wonder he looked vaguely familiar.... But I found the film incredibly annoying, and don't really recall him at all. I love Howard's acting though in the other films though...

    Gramercy!!! A distracting, enjoyable read. Thank you!