Thursday, 28 January 2010

Maurice Chevalier and Wilde without words - Reviews #8

Lady Windermere's Fan (Ernst Lubitsch, 1925) - As a play that's essentially a torrent of epigrams flooding over a skeletal, improbable plot, Lady Windermere's Fan isn't the most obvious fare for silent comedy. In the hands of legendary director Ernst Lubitsch, though, it translates into a touching and memorable film - if a little slow and lacking in giggles. There are some notable changes from the play, largely to make the baddies more humane and the damsel in distress more innocent. The plot is this: Lord Dartington (Ronald Colman) is in love with Lady Windermere. When her husband starts throwing money at a fallen woman (Irene Rich) - she fears the worst. But as becomes clear alarmingly near the beginning of this adaptation (the revelation usually comes at the end of Act Two), he's got a very good reason for doing so. The best of silent acting, indeed most silent acting, proves a lie of those ludicrous melodramatic spoofs employed by lazy contemporary TV shows in which actors who've clearly never watched a film from before 1986 gesticulate wildly and pull absurd, exaggerated expressions. Here, both Rich and Colman show what silent performance was really about: they're subtly expressive, striking just the right balance between what they make obvious and what is implied, or left to us to imagine. Ronnie is notable as a male lead for making the transition to talkies so effortlessly, but he was a major silent star and here he shows why. There are a couple of particularly nice bits of acting: his declaration of love in the opening scene and the sequence where he tells Lady Windermere of her husband's cheque book. The Windermeres are a bit wet (pun entirely intended), and a touch bland, but that means that when Wilde's machinations start tossing them around, we do feel for them. If The Lubitsch Touch isn't quite refined, it's still in evidence, with a few innovations that pave the way for the Pre-code sauciness of Trouble in Paradise, et al. The binoculars sequence, in which a series of men train their goggles on the pouty Rich as she attends a horse race, is very cleverly done, followed by a scene with a shrinking screen that follows Edward Martindel as he follows her. That sense of invention keeps this ambitious film interesting, despite it being shorn of the source material's most obvious asset. (3)
NB: I saw the 89m version held by the American Film Institute and included on the More Treasures box-set (thanks to the University of Leeds library). Apparently there is now a 133m version doing the rounds.


Also from More Treasures comes the SHORT film A Few Moments With Eddie Cantor (Lee DeForest, 1923), the star's first sound appearance, back when he was starring on Broadway in Ziegfeld's Kid Boots. Filmed in 1923, seven years before he shot to screen superstardom with Whoopee, it finds his wide-eyed, pampered-but-put-upon, slightly risque persona fully formed. Cantor performs a brief excerpt from the show - singing a couple of songs and doing some gags to camera - and that's that. The staging is non-existent (he's just standing on a wooden floor, with no backdrop and no props), but it's seven fun-filled minutes regardless, and a must for fans of the star. (3)


Folies Bergère de Paris (Roy Del Ruth, 1935) is a Lubitsch-esque confection with numbers inspired by the kaleidoscopic choreography of Busby Berkeley. It's also the best film I've caught so far this year. The story sees a vaudeville entertainer (Maurice Chevalier with his familiar persona) impersonate a baron (Chevalier again), leading to romantic complications for both. Ann Sothern is the entertainer's good time gal, with Merle Oberon the baron's flighty wife. It's witty and invigoratingly entertaining, with a fine performance by Chevalier in his dual role and a top supporting cast that includes Eric Blore, Robert Greig and Halliwell Hobbes. Despite the enjoyable plotting, the film's finest moments come through the slew of great numbers at both the beginning and the end of the film. The Singing a Happy Song finale, which won an Oscar for dance direction and features several hundred straw hats of varying sizes, is really something, but all the tunes are great: Valentine, Rhythm of the Rain, Au Revoir l'Amour and You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth. This was Chevalier's last Hollywood musical until Gigi, 23 years later. (3.5)

Monday, 25 January 2010

Torchy Blane, sea cadets and an acting donkey - Reviews #7

Au hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966) is a deeply moving fable from Robert Bresson, telling the story of a donkey whose life is governed by human behaviour he cannot fathom. I've seen it three times now and it's as difficult to stomach as ever. The film is wise, incisive and often breathtakingly directed, but profoundly upsetting, possessing one of the most hateful, nigh-on unwatchable characterisations ever put on film: François Lafarge's sneering sadist. That's not a criticism of course, it's something of a commendation; but while the film is enough to enhance your life, it's also apt to spoil your weekend. Unfortunately, regardless of how you take to its methodical treatment of human cruelty, the movie is hampered in a more earthly sense by confusing plotting and narrative strands that don't go anywhere. Balthazar also introduces two problems for those of us who watch too many movies and feel compelled to comment on them: 1) How do you rate a film that elicits such a strong mixture of emotions (anguish, misery, empathy) but founders in its storytelling?; 2) How can you judge acting if the best turn of 1966 is from a performer who didn't know he was on camera - and is a donkey? Was Brando just fed hay and told where to stand by some Svengali-ish auteur with a visionary sense of mise en scène? Big-eyed Balthazar's glorious "performance" contrasts ideally with the blank, cold characterisations elsewhere, typical of Bresson, while the way he is employed as a symbol of sainthood is extraordinary. I spent a fair bit of the movie worrying that the donkey was being mistreated by the filmmakers, which would be a gruesome irony. Taken as a whole, the film has obvious faults, though the visual composition is sublime and it's full of fascinating, frequently unforgettable vignettes. (3)


Yeah, there aren't many good stills knocking around from this one.

The first film version of My Sister Eileen (Alexander Hall, 1942) is admirably madcap, though it's just as effective during its (few) quieter moments. Aspiring writer Ruth (Rosalind Russell) and her wannabe actress sister Eileen (Janet Blair) flee Columbus, Ohio for New York, taking a rundown apartment in Greenwich Village and getting acquainted with some of the city's more colourful characters. Beginning, a la Nothing Sacred, with a great, self-contained comic sequence that puts paid to both girls' careers, the film then weighs in with some real heart, as the pair's stubborn, twinkly-eyed grandmother (the incomparable Elizabeth Patterson) comes to their aid. Set-up in the Big Apple, the sisters find they have to contend with an egotistical landlord (George Tobias), a seedy newspaperman (Allyn Joslyn), an American Footballer (Gordon Jones) hiding from his mother-in-law and a group of Portuguese sea cadets. All of them are at least slightly taken with Eileen. Not that Ruth is left out - she finds romance in the shape of magazine editor Brian Aherne, who's taken an interest in her slice-of-life stories. Despite the larger-than-life characters, the movie never grates, with enjoyable, imaginative plotting and a succession of great jokes. Considering it's based on a play, it's also fairly cinematic, at least as much as these Hall-directed Columbia comedies ever were. If you like this one, check out A Night to Remember, which has a similar setting (and possibly the same set, following a bit of tinkering), and also features Jeff Donnell (billed here as '(Miss) Jeff Donnell', to avoid any confusion) in a small role. (3.5)


Film of the weekend, though, was Smart Blonde (Frank McDonald, 1937), the first movie in Warner's mystery-comedy series, Torchy Blane. Glenda Farrell, familiar as a supporting player in countless Warner flicks, is Torchy, a fast-talking reporter who spars with cop boyfriend Barton MacLane as the pair investigate a murder. Though the mystery isn't that mysterious (genre buffs should be able to solve it by the halfway point), Farrell is nothing short of terrific, and her interplay with MacLane is spot-on. Factor in some sparky dialogue, cool, low-budget production and strong supporting characterisations by Addison Richards and Jane Wyman (as a scatty hat-check girl) and what you get is 58 minutes of sheer pleasure. I'm a sucker for B mystery-comedies (Charlie Chan, Boston Blackie, The Falcon, The Whistler, The Lone Wolf, Mr Moto, the list goes on and on) - and this is another series I can't wait to see more of. (3.5)

Friday, 22 January 2010

The mythology of Tarzan - Reviews #6

Tarzan and the Huntress (Kurt Neumann, 1947) - In 1942, America's biggest film studio MGM scrapped its legendary Tarzan series, with the option being snapped up by the smaller RKO. There, Johnny Weissmuller was to strap on the surprisingly-revealing Hays Code-approved loincloth a further six times. The first couple saw him scrapping with Nazis, with the second - Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943) - being as good a piece of nonsensical fluff as you're ever likely to find. I was a bit down on films three and four, as they're tired and largely gloomy affairs, but the penultimate entry - Huntress - is a partial return to form. Its major strength is an understanding of the series' in-built mythology and a welcome sense of fun. Like Superman Returns, then, only not as good. As with the first two MGM entries - the patchy Tarzan, The Ape Man and the superb Tarzan and His Mate - Tarzan's jungle paradise is invaded by hunters, a more sensible plotline than we've come to expect from these Sol Lesser yarns. The villainous gang includes former Warner heavy Barton MacLane and the eponymous huntress - Patricia Morison. Though the film is a touch confused about the morality of stealing animals from the jungle (presumably that was how the bulk of its supporting players came to Hollywood), Tarz does ultimately get pretty narked about the whole thing, leading to a series of lively showdowns. He's accompanied once more by Brenda Joyce and Johnny Sheffield, whose Boy is now a man, with a deep, booming voice. Where the film really scores is in its embracing of the Tarzan legend as our hero lets rip not once, but twice, with his famous yell. The first - so unexpected after four films without it - is a euphoric moment that seems to strip away 15 years of typecasting and weight gain from its wonderful star - if only for a few seconds. For all the film's deficiencies, like a messy, jumbled narrative and comedy scenes shoehorned in at apparently indiscriminate junctures, those two scenes are jolts of pure joy. (2.5)

Poseidon, Frank James and Doc Hollywood Mk 2 - Reviews #5

"Revival meeting at Clinton tomorrow night. Be there, brother - it's me and the devil and no holds barred."
The Return of Frank James (Fritz Lang, 1940) - German-born Fritz Lang (Metropolis, M, Fury) was a great director, but his three Hollywood Westerns are a fairly weak triumvirate. There's the flashy but thin Western Union, the utterly risible Rancho Notorious, and this sequel to 1939's Jesse James, with Henry Fonda hunting down the cowards who laid his brother low. Like that overpraised crowd-pleaser, which really doesn't hold up well today, this one has a great first five minutes and spectacular Technicolor cinematography to recommend it, but is too flat, too clean-cut and sorely lacks momentum. It also has an inappropriate, cartoonish sense of humour that jars with the often serious subject matter. That's not to say it's a write-off. John Carradine is superbly utilised; his Bob Ford so insidious that he quivers with cowardice and repressed homosexuality every time he points his gun at someone. He plays a key part in the film's best set piece, battling actors portraying the James brothers on a theatre-stage, then looking up to see Fonda towering on the balcony. There's also the chance to see porcelain Gene Tierney in her first screen role, aged 19. She's cast as a budding journalist who falls for Fonda. Tierney was a better actress than she's usually given credit for, but aside from being pretty and pleasant, she has little to do here. One curious aspect of the movie, borrowed from John Ford's masterpieces Judge Priest and Young Mr Lincoln, is its contention that the way to triumph in the courtroom is to make the public gallery laugh. I've never seen that work in real life. Fonda, who's making most of the quips, was a brilliant actor, but rarely in this film does he get to show it, at least until the last 10 minutes. Still, for the colour, the historical value and a great final shot, the film is worth checking out. You can tick off your favourite Golden Age supporting actors too: Frank Sully (the idiotic Sgt Matthews in several Boston Blackie entries), Irving Bacon (you'll know his face), Henry Hull, Donald Meek, J. Edward Bromberg and Jackie Cooper (the kid in the original version of The Champ) all play a part here. (2.5)


At no time during the film does this happen.

The Poseidon Adventure (Ronald Neame, 1972) has been on my "to see" list for years. Well, I finally got around to it, and I liked it a lot. After an ocean liner overturns, 10 passengers fight their way upwards to the bottom of the ship, in a bid to escape the exploding, flooding wreckage. Among the skilfully-etched archetypes are an all-action priest (Gene Hackman), a cop (Ernest Borgnine) and his ex-hooker wife (Stella Stevens), a friendly, chubby woman (Shelley Winters), two kids, a fitness freak (Red Buttons) and a hippy. The script is incisive, while helmer Ronald Neame exhibits his usual skill, keeping excitement at a maximum through deft, fast-paced direction that draws you into the centre of the action. Where the film really scores, though, is in its realism, with the gallery of A-listers performing the bulk of their own stunts. There's also a bit that seems to nod to The Searchers (yes, The Searchers again), as Hackman interrupts the grieving process with a bark of "We've got to keep moving!" Great stuff. (3.5)


Le fils de l'épicier/The Grocer's Son (Eric Guirado, 2007) traverses well-worn ground in an appealing way. Nicolas Cazalé is agreeably gruff as the titular character, the Prodigal Son returning to the family he left behind (You Can Count on Me, In My Father's Den), whose pastoral existence is in stark contrast with the hubbub of the metropolis (I Know Where I'm Going!, Local Hero, Doc Hollywood). Arriving with his almost-girlfriend, he takes on his ailing dad's rounds, finding both solace and frustration in the work. It's a bit erratic, with a couple of stretches that just consist of Cazale handing out food and an ending that's slightly rushed, but there are enough offbeat laughs and telling episodes to make it worthwhile. It's also a bit darker than you might expect, or at least more fraught. (3)

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

An introduction to... Lee Tracy (with a review of Criminal Lawyer)

This post contains one instance of strong language, employed in a comical sense. If that's likely to offend, please take a look at the Myrna Loy piece instead. No swearing there.

As you may have guessed from the blog name (borrowed from a 1933 Tracy vehicle), this razor-witted, motormouth leading man is my favourite actor. Here's a quick intro to the man.

An introduction to... Lee Tracy

After originating the role of Hildy Johnson in the original Broadway production of The Front Page, sparky, red-headed Lee Tracy went to Hollywood. He made a splash at Warner Bros, playing reporters, shysters and sharpsters in a run of gloriously snappy flicks like Blessed Event, The Half-Naked Truth and Washington Merry-Go-Round, something of a dry run for Capra's Mr Smith. Tracy signed for MGM in 1933 (William Powell made the same switch a year later), a move that did nothing to curb his ebullience or anti-authoritarianism, on screen or off. Just how highly the studio regarded him is evidenced by the number of movies they threw him into. In '33 alone he made no fewer than six movies at MGM, including forgotten classics Turn Back the Clock and The Nuisance, established greats Bombshell and Dinner at Eight and a peculiar Russia-set screwball comedy called Clear All Wires!, opposite Benita Hume and Una Merkel. Then he blew it.

There are potentially many fine ways to put the skids on a meteoric rise, but Tracy's takes some beating.

He pissed on the Mexican Army.

The story goes that Tracy was in Mexico shooting Viva Villa! for the studio when - blind drunk - he resolved to relieve himself off a balcony. The presence of a passing military parade below led to a diplomatic incident that saw him arrested, kicked off the film and then fired by MGM, after the Mexican papers called his actions "an insult to the nation". There is some debate over the authenticity of that story, though, superb as it is. Cameraman Charles G. Clarke says in his autobiography that Tracy was merely making obscene gestures to a guy outside his window. It's also worth questioning why Tracy had to go (from the studio, not to the toilet), since studios routinely hushed up sex scandals and hit-and-runs involving their stars. Perhaps the story was already too public, or perhaps his near-constant hellraising had left him on a last warning, but some have speculated that his type of wisecrack-driven film may have been losing favour with audiences (he only had a supporting role in Viva Villa!), with the scandal providing a suitable pretext on which to sack him. Whatever, they must have been mad. Tracy was something very special.

Charismatic and dynamic, the actor had one-of-a-kind delivery and a catalogue of recognisable mannerisms, like utilising his long, thin index finger to emphasise a point. Though there is such thing as a recognisable Tracy character - an incorrigible scalliwag playing everyone around him as he gets the scoop/wins the case, before displaying some skewed sense of morality in the final reel - he was no one-trick pony. Tracy's reporters in The Strange Love of Molly Louvain and I'll Tell the World (1934) are completely different, as are his promoters in Two-Fisted and Dinner at Eight. He also excelled in more obviously diverse roles: as a broken-hearted clown slipping into self-loathing in You Belong to Me, a Truman-esque President in his last film The Best Man and a disenchanted middle-aged man getting the chance to relive his life, and change history, in the devastatingly brilliant Depression-era fantasy Turn Back the Clock.

Following his sacking in '34, Tracy struck a three-picture deal with Columbia, before making a heap of low-budget star vehicles over at RKO, and a few for Poverty Row studios like PRC. Though the RKO movies vary in quality, they do acknowledge Tracy's standing as a uniquely gifted, fast-talking leading man near the peak of his powers, and are largely tailored to his talents.

One such RKO film is Criminal Lawyer (Christy Cabanne, 1937), which I watched last night. It's in many ways a standard Tracy film and, as such, an absolute riot. Taking the basic set-up of The Nuisance - Tracy is a shyster whose success in the courtroom is based more on theatrics and tricks than conventional legal practice - the writers also toss in the gangster subplots familiar from Blessed Event and Advice to the Lovelorn. The result is very similar to the William Powell movie Lawyer Man, though bizarrely that 1932 film chose not to show any of the courtroom sequences to which it frequently referred. The plot here has Tracy's barrister-come-showman becoming DA and trying to shake off his nefarious former sponsor. Hilariously, the tagline of the film gives away its entire storyline. What does the poster think it is - Halliwell's? Without telling you exactly what happens, I'll just say that as Tracy spars with hateful hood Eduardo Ciannelli, a woman (Margot Grahame) enters the picture, becoming Tracy's cook, secretary and confidante. That makes his sometime girlfriend (Betty Lawford) very jealous, setting up a slightly melodramatic final third that isn't as strong as the rest of the picture. Erik Rhodes provides plenty of comic support playing his patented amorous Italian (as seen in The Gay Divorcee, Top Hat and The Smartest Girl in the World), but as usual it's Tracy's show. Just seeing him on screen makes me happy, since he's never tired, or lacklustre, or sub-par. He's always just magnificently, spectacularly Tracy-ish. When the script is sharp, he's impossibly good, but he also elevates so-so sequences. His interrogation of a woman accused of murder recalls his pyrotechnics in Blessed Event, talking Allen Jenkins through a trip to the electric chair, and he imbues the climactic scene with an improbable credibility as well as a compulsive watchability. My 21st Tracy film is flawed, certainly, but yet another must for fans of the actor. (3)

Poliakoff double-bill - Reviews #4

Some more reviews for you. Ratings are from one to four.

Glorious 39 (Stephen Poliakoff, 2009)

Summer 1939, and as much of Britain prepares for war, a shady cabal of aristocrats and Government officials plots to mollify Hitler and secure a quick, painless peace. When Anne Keyes (Romola Garai), the adopted daughter of a wealthy family, stumbles across the conspiracy, she finds her life under threat - as one by one her allies turn out to be traitors, or turn up dead. In his first feature for 10 years, writer-director Stephen Poliakoff deals with some weighty themes - fascism, adoption, familial loyalty - while alighting on fascinating aspects of the readying for war, such as pets being killed and heaped onto pyres. "It's like a vision of hell, isn't it?" asks Anne's father (Bill Nighy). "Animals going onto a fire in a quiet English summer." Despite its depth, though, Glorious 39 is really an old-fashioned thriller: engrossing and atmospheric, with a gnawing, ever-present sense of menace and some mightily effective set pieces.

The film does have its faults, floundering in the final 15 and closing with an atrocious scene that serves no purpose, beyond fulfilling a perceived desire for a happy ending and satiating Poliakoff's need to hammer the audience over the head with poorly-conceived pseudo-irony. In common with Close My Eyes (more of which below), it also has moments of stiltedness and artificiality that snap you out of the story. But for all that, I don't understand the hammering it's been given by most critics. Its Hitchcockian elements - the stomach-tightening tension piquing during a slew of well thought-out suspense scenes - are marvellously handled, and the film is also notable for Garai's expressive, layered turn, which catches the eye in a cast that includes Nighy, Julie Christie, Jeremy Northam, David Tennant and Jenny Agutter. And Christopher Lee, but I don't like him. (3)


I'd enjoyed Glorious 39 - my first Poliakoff film - so I decided to dig out the only other one of his movies I own.

"I wish I could wake up happy." - Natalie (Saskia Reeves)

Close My Eyes (Stephen Poliakoff, 1991) is a troubling, intriguing, but sometimes superficial state-of-the-nation drama that attempts to have the last word on the 1980s. Saskia Reeves plays an aimless, unhappy young woman who marries a millionaire (Alan Rickman), then embarks on a passionate affair with her fiery, arrogant younger brother (Clive Owen). Though she can apparently turn the attraction on and off - an element that's insufficiently developed until the close - he is besotted, taking the AIDS crisis as further proof that he is doing The Right Thing. While this is primarily a portrait of sibling love, Poliakoff does have loftier ambitions as his screenplay encompasses compromised dreams (seen in the careers of its protagonists, and the broken idealism of city architecture) and the hollowness of contemporary priorities.

There's a moment in Lynne Ramsey's Morvern Callar, where Samantha Morton seems to capture just how peculiar and uncomfortable someone sounds in their own head when they're expressing a sensitive sentiment - in this case: "Shut up, he's dead." It's so unlike conventional acting that I've never been able to work out if she's doing it on purpose or has just mangled the dialogue with an atypical display of woodenness. Owen has a similar moment here, with a line that straddles the divide between glibness and profundity. "My boss is ill - he's got AIDS," he says simply. It's a particularly odd moment in a film that's littered with peculiarities and has a lot to say - not all of it entirely coherently.

With its striking, grim cinematography and bleak subject matter - punctuated with moments of wry humour - Close My Eyes plays like an embryonic version of Mike Leigh's dizzyingly brilliant Naked, which it predates by two years. In common with Glorious 39, it's a story of well-spoken people falling apart, lit by ever-present music, stately tracking shots and a curious interest in construction work as metaphor. Indeed, Poliakoff's fine visual sense is much in evidence, particularly in a breathtaking surrealistic opening. Acting-wise, it's a mixed bag, with a weak supporting cast but three strong leads. Reeves is the standout - absolutely excellent in a tricky part - with Owen as good as I've seen him and Rickman doing his considerable best in a role that tends towards caricature. A high (3), though definitely one to revisit.

Monday, 18 January 2010

The turnin' of the earth - The Searchers

... and here's a review of The Searchers, written in February 2007. My favourite movie, then, now and - I imagine - forever. The article is a bit meandering (and my writing style relies a little too much on Ellroy-apeing short sentences), but it articulates a lot of what I like about the movie, and I haven't got an afternoon to pen another 4,000 words about it at the moment.

The turnin' of the earth - The Searchers

"My name is John Ford. I make Westerns,” he liked to say. Such evasive, anti-intellectual modesty masks Ford's versatility (none of his four Oscars were for Westerns) and his supreme talent, but contains an important truth. His true arena was the Western. He made the genre and it made him. His first feature was a modest oater, 1917's Straight Shooting. He effectively created the modern Western with The Iron Horse (1924), adapting the Griffith techniques he admired so much to fashion an exciting, imaginative silent that feels remarkably modern. He reinvented the genre fifteen years later with Stagecoach, dusting down stock characters and turning them on their heads. The themes and motifs to which he so frequently returned are all there: redemption, sacrifice and the outsider hero; extreme long shots, Monument Valley and John Wayne. Yakima Canutt's unbelievable stuntwork augments a story that fuses action and character as well as anything before or since. Ford reinforced the rich, mesmerising mythology of the Western with a string of classics: the Cavalry trilogy, My Darling Clementine and Wagon Master. He updated his classic '27 silent 3 Bad Men in luscious Technicolor as 3 Godfathers. And ever he returned to the West, endlessly probing, subverting and revising his unique vision. 1962's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is extraordinary: part-homage to the genre mythology of which Ford was the primary architect, and part-deconstruction. Thanks to him, America's messy, bloody birth had become a glorious "creation myth”: a country and a nation won through a marriage of right and might. If his films weren't how the West was, then they're how it should have been. He made Wayne an icon and twisted the inherent self-righteousness of Henry Fonda's screen persona into something reckless and ugly 20 years before Fonda's pantomime theatrics in Once Upon a Time in the West. Not that Ford publicly had much truck with the praise lauded upon him. He memorably dismissed descriptions of himself as a poet as "horseshit”.

Because its themes and iconography are most deeply ingrained in popular culture, the Western is the genre that can be subverted most easily and effectively. In the 1950s it got dark and it got weird. If we crudely hack the Western's progress into ten-year slabs, then the '50s stands as the genre's most important decade, beginning with Henry King's elegiac masterpiece The Gunfighter and ending with Hawks' super-fun, anti-High Noon buddy flick, Rio Bravo. Between, Anthony Mann made a heap of ever-darker variations on a theme, five with Jimmy Stewart and one absolute cracker – Man of the West – with Gary Cooper. Randolph Scott found a new lease of life under Budd Boetticher, the star immortalised as a craggily heroic gunman of varying shades of grey in seven mini-masterpieces, among them Ride Lonesome, Seven Men From Now, The Tall T and Comanche Station. And Delmer Daves made 3:10 to Yuma, mixing in noir and adding social realist overtones to stunning effect. Elsewhere Lee Marvin carved out a niche as a film-stealing supporting player invariably up to absolutely no good, Alan Ladd became the screen incarnation of Shane – the honourable ex-gunslinger idolised by a cute kid (Brandon DeWilde, who later became a playmate of clean-living California-types Peter Fonda and Gram Parsons, trivia fans) and John Paine took on the HUAC in the terrific, allegorical, Silver Lode. Nicholas Ray's The Lusty Men got down and miserable with rodeo bum Robert Mitchum, one-armed soldier Spencer Tracy set fire to Robert Ryan in the contemporary Western-noir Bad Day at Black Rock and Sterling Hayden brought a harpoon to a gunfight in Terror in a Texas Town, a typically unconventional offering from "Wagon Wheel” Joseph H. Lewis. Heroes were increasingly weary, unhappy and morally ambiguous. Cue Mitchum and Robert Ryan strapping on the spurs, but also Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Randolph Scott and WWII hero Audie Murphy slumming it – and doing some of their best work – as flawed sheriffs, bounty hunters and hired killers. Mean, tough and unpredictable, the '50s Western can be a tough place to visit. And the genre master topped them all.

Ford made just four Westerns in the 1950s. Wagon Master (1950) is a slice of perfection. Refreshing, leisurely-paced and filled with magnificent photography, it's a picturesque, unforgettable journey quite unlike anything else you'll ever see. Sadly, Ben Johnson didn't work with Ford for 14 years after telling him to stick his next movie up his ass. That was Rio Grande (1950), the concluding chapter of his Cavalry trilogy: an ever-underrated portrait of army life with great acting, great songs and Johnson's legendary stunt-riding. The Horse Soldiers (1959) is a pictorially thrilling but dramatically deadening Civil War pic, with Wayne and Bill Holden squabbling like schoolchildren as the bodies pile up. And then there is The Searchers. A shot of silhouettes crossing the horizon, a classic Ford motif, was the one the poster artists drew from. "He had to find her... He had to find her... He had to find her...” ran the strapline. Yes, but they didn't say what he was going to do once he found her...

Ford's most complete, adventurous and atmospheric film, The Searchers is a breathtaking odyssey of revenge and redemption. The greatest, purest Western of all time, it's also the dirtiest, foulest and most upsetting. It is a film of violent clashes and vivid contrasts, the harshness of frontier life playing out beneath spellbinding sunsets, amidst masterfully composed panoramas. Peter Biskind said of Paper Moon that he had never seen a film that looked less like what it was about. The Searchers, filled with exquisite scenery and glorious music, is an extraordinarily dark and brutal film. Its hero is a violent, obsessive racist intent on murdering his niece.

Texas, 1868. Confederate soldier Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns to his brother Aaron's home. Using a cattle-theft as a decoy, Comanches draw out Ethan and the local rangers, then raid the homestead, killing Aaron, his wife and son, and kidnapping their two daughters. One, Lucy, is raped, murdered and left out on the trail. The other, Debbie, remains alive. After an abortive attempt to track the Indians ends in mutiny, three searchers set out on their tail: Ethan, his blue-eyed 1/8th Comanche adopted nephew-in-law Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) and Lucy's fella, Brad Jorgensen (Harry Carey, Jr.). Brad is cut down in a red mist. Ethan and Martin keep searching. The Jorgensens (John Qualen, Olive Carey and Vera Miles), a poor, immigrant family figure infrequently, offering a warm-hearted antidote to the bleak central quest, with Miles as a tempestuous, attractive love interest for Hunter. The only barriers to their future happiness: a guffawing guitar-strummer and Martin's squaw wife, acquired by accident. The trail runs cold. Ethan pays a local trader for information. He gives them the name Scar (Henry Brandon): a ruthless, rootless Indian chief who hangs scalps across his tent. As they set out again, Ethan's intentions become clear. Once he finds the grown-up Debbie (Natalie Wood), defiled by Comanches, he plans to kill her.

The opening still sends shivers down the spine. A black screen. A door opens and we're back in Monument Valley. More homely, overpowering and deadly than ever, it inspires a euphoria pitched somewhere between nostalgia and awe. The wind whips rust-coloured sand across the vast, sprawling canvas as a lone figure rides towards the camera. A woman looks across the plains, her hand to her brow. Her husband: "Ethan?” Debbie to the dog: "Hush, Prince.” Then Lucy, with great excitement: "It's your Uncle Ethan!” Still fighting a war that ended three years ago, with a mercenary's medal, two bags on newly-minted gold and a crush on his brother's wife, is Ethan Edwards, the returning anti-hero. "What kind of a man are you, anyway?” Martin asks him. A tough, straight-talking, wayward-thinking ex-soldier, Ethan's the eternal outsider. A mass of contradictions and complexities, it takes a mammoth performance from Wayne to punch them across. Shot frequently from below, Ethan towers over the landscape, beneath a clean, clear sky, his flaws deep and real. Morally corrupt, his gifts are channelled into acts of hatred. His unerring accuracy with a rifle, a common trait for a conventional hero, is used to blast a dead Indian between the eyes, "so he'll walk forever between the winds”, and to fire at Comanches carrying off their hurt and dead. In She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Wayne's Nathan Brittles used his knowledge of Indians to resolve conflict. Here his understanding of the Comanches' way of life enables him to track his captured niece across the country so he can "put a bullet in her brain”. Ethan thinks nothing of using Martin as bait to trap three lowlife traders whom he shoots in the back. He slaughters a whole herd of buffalo to starve the Comanches, should they happen this way. But he also shows compassion, shielding Brad (Harry Carey, Jr.) from the reality of his love's fate, defending addled Mose Harper (Hank Worden) from ridicule and reacting with telling empathy to Look's demise. Such acts anticipate the film's climactic valediction, where he sweeps his niece into his arms. "Let's go home, Debbie,” he says, slow and steady. One key to Ethan's racism is explicit. As young Debbie cowers next to a gravestone, clutching her doll, the words are visible: "Here lies Mary Jane Edwards. Killed by Comanches. May 12, 1852. A good wife and mother in her 41st year.” Ethan's mother. His love, Martha, also murdered, he is hamstrung by guilt and the impotence of regret. He is a man possessed. And he doesn't believe in surrenders. There are moral centres all over the place: Mose, Mrs Jorgensen and Martin Pawley, who defends Debbie to the last. But it's Ethan who dominates and who gives the film its hard, fascinating edge. "If the girls are dead, don't let the boys waste their life in vengeance,” pleads Mrs. Jorgensen. The man just rides away.

"I never knew the big son of a bitch could act,” said Ford after seeing Wayne in Howard Hawks' Red River (1948). Placing a little more faith in his on-screen alter-ego, he rolled out the big roles. Spellbinding in the following year's Yellow Ribbon, Wayne followed it with strong, nuanced performances in Rio Grande and The Quiet Man. But Wayne is something far beyond a revelation in The Searchers. Tortured and tormented, he's like a looking glass: broken dreams, shattered hopes and the lives of loved ones long lost playing out behind his hate-filled eyes. Harry Carey, Jr. recalled shooting the scene in which the Jorgensens' prize bull is slaughtered. "When I looked up at [Wayne] in rehearsal, it was into the meanest, coldest eyes I had ever seen. I don't know how he moulded that character... He didn't kid around on The Searchers like he had done on other shows. Ethan was always in his eyes.” Initially hiding Lucy's fate from Brad, Ethan is eventually forced to tell him the truth. "What you saw wasn't Lucy,” he says. "I found Lucy back at the canyon... I wrapped her in my... coat, buried her with my own hands.” "Did they...? Was she...?” asks Carey, afraid. "Whaddaya want me to do?” yells Wayne. "Draw you a picture?” Consumed by sorrow and rage, it's one of the best scenes Wayne ever played. That was take two. A bearded, drunk Ward Bond had spoiled the first one by pulling out the camera to plug in his electric razor.

The Searchers was adapted from Alan LeMay's novel, based on events in 1830s Texas. Frank Nugent's script is impossibly sharp. His terse, economical style fits Wayne perfectly. Poetic stretches, lamentations and shreds of love and patriotism only add to the brutal splendour of the film. It's 50 years of Westerns boiled down to a few choice phrases. "It seems like [the Indian]'ll never learn there's such a thing as a critter who'll just keep comin' on,” says Wayne in one stunning exchange, "so we'll find him in the end. I promise you, we'll find him just as sure as the turnin' of the earth.” The Fordian presentation of immigrant homesteaders, the sure-footed treatment of loss and regret and the sweetness of the Martin-Laurie relationship ("But I always loved you. I thought you knew that without me havin' to say it,” Martin tells her) all comes from Nugent's screenplay. So too does the film's troubling, duplicitous relationship with racism. For all the wisdom of the film's conclusions, the Comanche are presented as psychotic supermen: barely human. "If they're human men at all they gotta stop!” says Carey, Jr. "No,” replies Wayne. "A human rides a horse until it dies, then he goes on afoot. A Comanche comes along and gets the horse up, rides him 20 more miles. Then he eats him.” So far, so funny, but Ethan's bigotry will never grant him rest, nor peace. It will never grant him rest. One incredibly upsetting scene has Wayne and Hunter encountering white women kidnapped by Indians. Wide-eyed and insane, they scream, shake and talk to themselves. "They ain't white. Not anymore. They're Comanche,” says Wayne. Ford zooms in for a dark, terrifying close-up of his frazzled face and a look of unspeakable revulsion and anger. Ethan's violent, blinkered racism is the reason for his alienation and misery. "I've seen his eyes at the word 'Comanche',” Martin Pawley says, "He's a man that can go crazy well.” But Miles' likeable Laurie echoes Ethan's sentiments in a petulant, shocking outburst near the close. Nugent and Ford's presentation of Pawley's wife, Look, is murky. We're expected to laugh at her being kicked out of bed on her wedding night, but feel sympathy at her demise. And we do. Great films don't always have all the answers. Elsewhere, the Wayne-Bond dialogue bristles. "I say we do it my way – and that's an order,” barks Bond. "Yes, sir,” replied Wayne. "But if you're wrong ... don't ever give me another.” Later Bond's Reverend/Marshal asks Ethan to take a trip upstate. "Is this an interview to a necktie party?” asks Wayne, grimly. Ethan meets confrontation with a heavy, sarcastic "That'll be the day”, Wayne's delivery drawn from observing how Yakima Canutt met danger with mock-mirth. The screenplay is littered with allusions, mysteries and tantalising clues as to Ethan's erratic behaviour. As a strong, lusty, heavy-browed common man, yearning for a woman who can never be his: the parallels between Ethan's missing years and those of Heathcliff probably aren't coincidental. The Searchers also offers the same suggestions of infidelity and illegitimacy as Wuthering Heights. Are Lucy and Debbie Ethan's children? Is Martin his illegitimate son?

Humour and heart usually flow through Ford's films. Here they sprout up sporadically: sometimes jarringly, more often perfectly. "Mose Harper? Is that old goat still creakin' around?” asks Ethan, affectionately, showing off to Martha. "Why don't somebody bury him?” he adds unnecessarily, his coarse black humour receiving no response. His refusal to small-talk and his unsuitability for cordial family gatherings leads to one of the most uncomfortable dinner-times on celluloid: jostling for position with Festen and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. "A fella could mistake you for a half-breed,” he tells Martin Pawley in front of his adopted family. Nugent's inspired "letter” segment, narrated by Martin, has moments of great comedy too, not least Pawley's reference to "the late Mr. Futterman”. The most bizarre juxtaposition of comedy and drama occurs just before the Indian murder raid. First, Hank Worden performs a circular Indian war-dance and Wayne kicks him up the arse. Then Ford goes for a startling close-up of Wayne, the most extraordinary, unfathomable expression framed on his face. The desperately funny "Colonel Greenhill” scene (with Wayne's son Pat as a young cavalry officer) ends with Worden being dragged in, half-dead. It's Ford at his most reckless and brilliant. Few directors would have dared it, fewer still pulled it off. Later, ever ashamed of being viewed as sentimental or effeminate, Ford cuts from one of the most moving scenes of his career (Ethan's ultimate salvation) to a shot of Ward Bond having a bullet removed from his bum. The director seems awake to the occasional lurches in tone. The look that Jeffrey Hunter awards to Worden's other, impromptu Indian impression crystallises the attitude of many critics towards Ford's broad comic relief. The dance scenes and fight scenes present in so much of Ford's work are used sparingly. Both we – and Ethan – arrive too late at the dance to take much of a part. Martin has a fun punch-up with Charlie "Haw haw haw” McCorry (Ken Curtis). There are plenty of nods to Ford's other films. Qualen's cries of "By golly!” recall his "By d'yevil!” calling card from The Long Voyage Home. Jeffrey Hunter's early scenes on the trail are reminiscent of Ben Johnson's in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. And when the searching party is scaled down to three, the film briefly plays like some incredibly bleak spin on 3 Godfathers, with Wayne and Carey reprising their earlier roles: ten years of bad memories on their backs.

There is an urgency to The Searchers that is lacking from almost of Ford's other work. There hymns play out. There's time for extended comic sequences, bits of "business” and frank, honest sentiment. In The Searchers there is no time. Wayne's protagonist is ceaselessly restless. He surges on, endlessly trying to purge his soul, trying to make good the past. "Our turnin' back don't mean nothin',” he says, ploughing through thick snow. "Put an amen to it!” he shouts, interrupting Ford's signature hymn, Yes, We'll Gather at the River, during a funeral. "There's no time for praying. Amen!” Ford subverts expectation and genre with relish. Ethan rides to the rescue too late. His cavalry charge cannot reverse time. He's greeted by a burning homestead (famously referenced in Star Wars). As his family are butchered, Martin doesn't even have a horse to ride back on. In Stagecoach Ford left Wayne out in the wilderness with no horse. Here he walks off into the desert without a friend. Yet the director still gives Worden's Mose a happy ending.

A second-generation immigrant himself, Ford notably frames the film's second family – the Jorgensens – against the iconic backdrop of Monument Valley. He shows immigrant homesteaders as the heirs and heroes of the land. "Someday this country's gonna be a fine good place to be,” says Mrs Jorgensen. And these are the people who made it. The fatalism of The Searchers, and the apparently random nature of the Indian murder raid, makes the family's scenes all the more poignant. They could all have been wiped out within the first 20 minutes. It's a point reinforced by an echo of the first scene on Wayne's second, brief homecoming, with Olive Carey standing in the doorway.

The bloodiest action happens off-screen (the film gets a U-certificate in Britain, despite its resolutely adult themes). The ferocity of one stand-off is implied by the host of dead Indians littering the trail. The rest is brilliantly handled, Ford cementing his status as a fine director of action through a series of masterfully edited set pieces. Ford confronts issues of vengeance, morality, honour, racism, loyalty and love, paving the way for Peckinpah's Western revolution. And without The Searchers there would be no Taxi Driver. But there could also be no Hud, no Last Picture Show, no Affliction and no Memento. The loss of innocence, the fracturing of the human mind and the thirst for revenge are captured with frightening, captivating clarity.

Ford's work with Winton C. Hoch was among his very best (probably only his collaborations with Gregg Toland produced anything comparable). Some of the lighting is almost expressionistic: the orange sunset that anticipates the Indian raid, violent and atmospheric. Coupled with the terrified, mock-normality of Martha and Lucy's conversation, it creates a mounting dread. Ford's magnificent visual imagination works wonders. He closes-up on Lucy's terrified scream... then pulls back. The Indians aren't there. They arrive instead with a creeping shadow falling on a girl's dress. Martha goes limp with terror at the window. It's a nasty, brilliant trick worthy of Hitchcock, riffed on in the Coens' Blood Simple. After Brad's futile death, Ford cuts to a shot of the plains, shrouded in dust. The relentless nature of the quest is implicit, coupled with a feeling that though men die, the world goes on, and little disturbs nature.

As is true of so many Ford films, the music is flawless: always necessary, never overbearing. Regular collaborator Stan Jones (of The Sons of the Pioneers) sings the plaintive theme, the "Ride away...” refrain anticipating the film's classic sucker punch. Max Steiner's ominous, oppressive, expressive and haunting score complements Winton C. Hoch's mesmerising cinematography, incorporating Civil War-era ballad Lorena (a man lamenting his dead wife) and the Confederate anthem The Bonnie Blue Flag to rousing, moving effect.

The performances are superb. Ward Bond's Reverend/Marshal is gruff, funny and commanding. John Qualen, one of the outstanding character actors of the century, fills the screen with warmth, whether dealing with the death of his son or celebrating the arrival of the post – "two letters in one year!” Natalie Wood, oft-criticised for woodenness, is superb in her few, short scenes. Her sister Lana plays the younger Debbie with a bright-eyed likeability. Jeffrey Hunter is extremely good throughout – aside from ballsing up one important line ("I hope you die!”, he shouts, with all the conviction of a man who's just been told someone's removed the Arts supplement from his newspaper). Vera Miles, who apparently suffered the ignominy of being pursued by a naked Ward Bond on set, is as brilliant as ever: irresistibly feisty in her key supporting role. German-born Henry Brandon plays Scar with a chilling aloofness. It took weeks of sunbathing for Brandon to get the right skin tone for the character. Ford reportedly took this preparation as vanity and, with characteristic open-mindedness, called Brandon a fag. Olive Carey, the widow of Ford's first leading man, Harry Carey, provides much of the heart with a subtle, restrained performance. And Hank Worden steals every scene in sight, whether mumbling gently in a rocking chair or greeting Wayne like a German Shepherd. Pippa Scott, Dorothy Jordan, William Steele, Walter Coy and Ken Curtis round out a wonderful supporting cast. And through it all Wayne stands like a tower of strength. As he ends his greatest performance, he walks past Olive Carey, then gives a fleeting, wonderful nod to her deceased husband, Harry Carey Snr, grasping his left arm in the actor's signature style.

The Searchers is Ford's greatest legacy. A director without equal, he provokes a profound emotional response in those who buy into his unique style, imagination, humanity and sense of humour. The Searchers, with its stripped-down dialogue, complex characterisation and downbeat ending is both the most, and least, typical of Ford's films. The boozing, brawling and bawling are less prevalent than usual (he returned to them a year later with The Wings of Eagles, which has little else), but the classic Western presentation and the familiar Fordian themes of family, redemption and the forging of a nation are stronger, clearer and purer than ever before. It's the most ambitious story Ford ever attempted, executed with exceptional style, vigour and conviction. Bold and breathtaking, it engages the emotions and the senses. Sound is used to spectacular effect. Brad's echoing shouts suggest the voices – and the screams – of the party's loved ones, still echoing around the vast caverns and canyons of Monument Valley. It's a film of tremendous ferocity. There is rape, murder, bloody revenge and worse. Dark, complex and upsetting, The Searchers is as abrasive, unforgiving and compelling as its hero. It's sometimes tender, often moving and sumptuously shot. Ford turns on both taps with an outrageous volte face at the death. And though the director gives the blockbuster crowd what they want with a stunning action climax, it is the film's heartbreaking coda that is his masterstroke – the sad mythology of the outsider hero drifting across in breathtaking fashion. Uplifting in the majesty of its presentation, but devastating in its conclusions, it's a shattering experience. The strong, simple, narrative search, dressed in the complexity of America's birth, drenched in the mythology of its creation myth. It's still the greatest film ever made.

Myrna Loy - Hollywood's forgotten star

I'm digging out a few articles from the archive that you might not have seen before. Here's the first - a piece I wrote about one of my favourite actresses, Myrna Loy.

Myrna Loy - Hollywood's forgotten star

In 1937, Myrna Loy was crowned Queen of Hollywood by 20 million moviegoers in the biggest survey of its kind ever conducted. The achievement, celebrated in front of press cameras as she promoted MGM's Parnell, was the result of Ed Sullivan's quest to find America’s favourite actor and actress. The King, of course, was Clark Gable, the smirking, macho charmer whose enduring place in popular culture would be cemented two years later by Gone with the Wind.

It seems remarkable today that Loy, now largely forgotten, once enjoyed a similar level of fame.

She may not have had a song named after her, like 1937’s ‘Dear Mr. Gable/You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want To Do It)’, but contemporaries converted the jazz standard ‘Moanin’ Low’ to serenade her, while E. B. White penned a poem in her honour – ‘Marvellous Myrna, Lovely Loy’. She was the subject of President Franklin Roosevelt’s most public crush, inspired a young Jimmy Stewart to declare, “I’m going to marry Myrna Loy!” and gave ‘30s plastic surgeons the most requested profile of the decade. When Dillinger was gunned down by police outside the Biograph Theatre, it was Loy he’d broken cover to see – in 1934’s Manhattan Melodrama. Even Gable himself was in thrall to Loy’s charms, being pushed off a porch into a hedge for his troubles.

Loy was also a trendsetter: the first actress to work for the UN, an unexpected rebel who went on strike from MGM for equal pay, and a fixture on Hitler’s blacklist, after speaking out against his treatment of Jews. She lobbied for black actors to be given more dignified roles, and was part of the Committee for the First Amendment that battled the Hollywood witch-hunt from 1947. Loy’s portrayals of patient, devoted spouses in some of the Golden Age’s best films saw her dubbed ‘The Perfect Wife’, while Henry Fonda considered her “the perfect movie star”. Even New Hollywood tipped its hat to Myrna, as Bonnie and Clyde’s C. W. Moss called her his “favourite picture star”. It's difficult to say why Loy is so little-known today. Perhaps it's because of her unshowy acting style - the way she complemented, rather than dominated, the other actors on show. Perhaps because she has no one transcendent film - a Wizard of Oz or Casablanca - frequently replayed on TV, lodging her in casual movie-watchers’ minds. Or perhaps the relative scarcity of her work is to blame. Of her 122 features, only 13 are available on DVD in Britain. Whatever, it's a situation that deserves to be rectified.

Loy, born Myrna Adele Williams in Montana in 1905, was a graceful, gracious, hugely appealing actress whose gift for sophisticated, banter-heavy comedy was complemented by an intuitive warmth, subtlety and sensitivity that helped her create maximum chemistry with a succession of legendary leading men. She had an engagingly unusual appearance: a nose that cast wicked shadows, ears that Selznick wanted stuck back to her head and legs that she kept under wraps at all costs, despite her training as a dancer. And after overcoming a severe uneasiness with sound cinema, she was able to project one of the movies' great voices, sympathetic and melodious, but with a funny edge to it.

Discovered by Rudolph Valentino, Loy had braved seven years of bit parts and bizarre typecasting before her career-changing role in the 1932 musical masterwork Love Me Tonight, directed by sometime beau Rouben Mamoulian. Her refreshing performance as a twinkly-eyed, man-hungry countess helped put pay to the ‘vamp’ tag that had seen her play exotic villainesses in films like The Black Watch and The Squall. From then on, her rise was meteoric. The following year was one of firsts. Night Flight was the first movie where Loy was billed above the title, while the superb comedy-thriller Penthouse had been her maiden collaboration with ‘One-Shot’ Woody Van Dyke, the director famed for his aversion to second takes. He took to yelling in the studio canteen about her bright future, before devising the first part written especially for her, in The Prizefighter and the Lady.

When MGM landed the rights to ‘The Thin Man’, Dashiell Hammett’s novel about two married, soused sleuths, Van Dyke fought for Loy to play the lead. He’d pushed her into his swimming pool, he said, and she’d passed the audition. Studio boss Louis B. Mayer eventually relented, giving Van Dyke three weeks to shoot the film. He made the deadline with ease.

If Loy had been good in Love Me Tonight, she was a revelation in The Thin Man. For the first time, audiences were presented with a modern take on marriage: a happily-wed couple with an endless tolerance for one another’s foibles, who matched each other drink for drink, while dabbling in detective work. Loy’s gift for comedy, so clearly on display in Love Me Tonight, had reached a whole new level, and was allied to an understated, often unspoken expression of heartfelt emotion that few performers could equal.

The film’s singular magic is epitomised by a spot of face-pulling. Amateur investigator Nick Charles (William Powell) is trying not to get involved in a murder case. Without warning, the chief suspect's daughter (Maureen O'Sullivan) turns up in his apartment. A Christmas party is in full swing, so he takes her into the bathroom. The young brunette falls into his arms... and in walks his wife (Loy). Cue the anticipated blow-up, with the rest of the film spent in recrimination and regret? Of course not. Powell pulls a face, Loy wrinkles her nose, and the danger's over. It's utterly joyous. The pair, who had acted together previously in Manhattan Melodrama, appeared in a further 12 films. Five of those were Thin Man sequels, while Libeled Lady and I Love You Again were peaks of the screwball genre. In The Great Ziegfeld, a simply enormous biopic, Myrna played the eponymous showman’s second wife. Though she doesn’t appear until the final third, her scenes with Powell are a delight.

But then Loy’s filmography is littered with wonder, from her wide-eyed love interest in Capra’s brilliant Broadway Bill, to her commanding dramatic performance in The Rains Came, a waterlogged disaster pic that’s slipped off the critical radar. She could do state-of-the-nation drama (William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives) as effortlessly as family comedy (Cheaper by the Dozen) and continued to act well into her 70s, delivering a compelling, nuanced supporting turn in Sidney Lumet’s acidic satire, Just Tell Me What You Want. Hers is a body of work ripe for rediscovery and reevaluation. Whether she was paired with Powell, Gable, Cary Grant or Spencer Tracy, the sparks always flew and the relationships always rang true. Maybe Myrna couldn’t grandstand like Bette Davis, or suffer like Garbo, but given a quip and a cocktail dress, she was the greatest.

(c) MovieMail, March 2008

Friday, 15 January 2010

Snow, slapstick and single parenthood - Reviews #3

And So They Were Married (Elliot Nugent, 1936) is a fun romantic comedy set over the Christmas season, with divorcee Mary Astor falling for widower Melvyn Douglas at a snowbound hotel as their boisterous children (Edith Fellows and Jackie Moran) plot to keep them apart. Though the production values are a bit low - and there's little utilisation of the festive setting - the kids are great value and Douglas shows the deft comic touch and ability to subtly evoke emotion that saw him spread his screen success to stage and the small screen. There's a lovely moment where he shrugs off his broken heart by ruffling his son's hair and murmuring: "I just need a little time, son." The film is more realistic, and therefore less escapist, than Columbia's usual sparkly fare, as it effectively paraphrases the difficulties of single parenthood. There's a slight over-reliance on visual humour and the title is shamefully generic, but you can't fail to enjoy a film that features both Donald Meek as an exasperated hotel manager and Douglas Scott (young Hindley in Wyler's Wuthering Heights), scene-stealing as a breakaway mummy's boy. Once you've explored the more obvious genre gems from Columbia (It Happened One Night, A Night to Remember, Together Again), it's worth giving this one a go. (3)


If you enjoy And So They Were Married, try Listen Darling (Edwin L Marin, 1938), a charming comedy in which kids once more have a hand in determining Mary Astor's lovelife. There it's three of the '30s best child performers pitching in - Freddie Bartholomew, Judy Garland and the doomed Scotty Beckett - with Walter Pidgeon as Astor's potential beau. Great stuff, featuring two of Garland's finest screen numbers: Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart and Ten Pins in the Sky. (3.5)

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Bathtime and dancing leopard idiots - Reviews #2

Can't Help Singing (Frank Ryan, 1944) - Deanna Durbin was the Canadian opera star who saved Universal Studios (the dream factory, not the tourist attraction). Beginning as a 14-year-old in 1936's Three Smart Girls, she made 21 tuneful, attractive musicals that charmed America, and provided Winston Churchill with his favourite film, 100 Men and a Girl. Can't Help Singing is notable for a few reasons. It was Durbin's only colour vehicle, the only one with an Old West setting and the only one with songs by Jerome Kern, the tunesmith who wrote the score to Swing Time, was immortalised in the spotty 1946 biopic Till the Clouds Roll By (£3 at a shop near you) and was once discovered by '30s star Myrna Loy sitting on her porch, trapped in a glass jar.

Durbin plays a flighty senator's daughter who heads out West after her caddish lover (David Bruce, whose character is abominably underdeveloped) but finds herself falling for travelling companion Robert Paige. Akim Tamiroff and Leonid Kinskey (Sascha in Casablanca) are a pair of feckless tramps also along for the ride, while Ray Collins (Gettys in Citizen Kane) is Durbin's father. The set-up, borrowed from the Capra/Riskin classic It Happened One Night, is solid, but the narrative moves too quickly, with a dearth of scenes charting the growing relationship between Durbin and Paige. The unfailingly charming leads do their best, despite Deanna having been made-up to within an inch of her life - boasting blusher that seems to be causing her near-constant embarassment. It's a shame the script isn't stronger, as the songs are gloriously performed with the big budget allowing them to be extravagantly, imaginatively staged.

Durbin and Paige's duet to Can't Help Singing is a tremendous addition to the singin' in the bathtub tradition (think Winnie Lightner in The Show of Shows, Lena Horne in that legendary deleted scene from Cabin in the Sky, or me the other day, crooning Tom Waits as I washed my feet), with Californ-i-ay a superior precursor to Oklahoma!'s title tune and Any Moment Now really rather touching. One could argue that Elbow Room - performed by a knockabout chorus - is the most dispensable entry in the canon of 20th century song, but More and More more than makes up for it. Can't Help Singing doesn't rank with the best of the Durbin films, but it's good fun, with a slew of musical highlights making up for the slightly hurried plotting. (3)


Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (Kurt Neumann, 1946) - This is a touch better than Amazons (see Reviews #1), with plenty of action (quite well done) and a lively performance by Weissmuller, who'd looked a bit out of sorts in the previous entry. The plot, by now following a path through the jungle wilds so well-trodden it resembles a motorway, sees the Ape Man battling a weird cult with silly leopard costumes that's really into robbery and human sacrifice. Considering the movies were aimed at kids, their marketing is curiously sexualised, with the poster art invariably flagging up the tits of whichever minor character was most well-endowed. Here it's Acquanetta, who gets shared billing. Her leopard bikini is at least a bit better thought-out than those ridiculous capes the other cult members are wearing.

I rather enjoyed the film, particularly its adherence to near wall-to-wall action, but it provides quite a bit of unintentional hilarity. That comes partly from its incredibly low opinion of natives (who are all duplicitous, hateful bastards) and partly from the barely-choreographed dance the leopard men do around the fire. They look like drunk clubbers wearing their wives' coats. One interesting element of the film is "half-native" Edgar Barrier, a Western-educated cultist who denounces the decadence of the imperialists and leads the fight against them. All the RKO series regulars return here: Brenda Joyce is still somewhat one-note as Jane, Boy is entering puberty (giving him an all-new voice and face) and Cheeta hogs the limelight once more. I'm going to be an old cynic and suggest that it's not really him playing that music on the trumpet, though. (2)

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

MovieMail: The Queen of Spades

More Tarzan on the way, but here's a bit of heavy relief.

The Queen of Spades (Thorold Dickinson, 1949)

In the summer, Radio 4 held a poll to find the most sought-after out-of-print British film. The winner, by a landslide, was The Queen of Spades, Thorold Dickinson’s bizarre, brilliant 1949 movie, a blend of historical fable and supernatural thriller. Shot for a pittance in a tiny studio next to a Shredded Wheat factory, by a director who’d had just six days to prepare, it’s an opulent, flamboyant film quite unlike anything else in British cinema.

Anton Walbrook plays a Russian army captain who becomes obsessed with uncovering the secret of a card game that could make his fortune. When he learns that an aged countess (Dame Edith Evans) traded her soul for the knowledge, he inveigles his way into her household by seducing her naïve ward (Yvonne Mitchell). “Take life as you find it,” Walbrook’s banker advises him. “I’d rather take it by the throat and force it to give me what I want,” Walbrook hisses, eyes flashing.

Dickinson believed “each film should be a little world in itself” and the one he conjures up in The Queen of Spades is remarkable. Beginning in a gypsy nightclub, the air heavy with smoke, whisky and song, we're a world away from the sedateness of most British movies of the period. The film has a uniquely European flavour, welding its fantastical elements to something that looks and feels like an Ophuls melodrama: all lovestruck waifs, clandestine opera house liaisons and snowy streets. The expressionist photography and Walbrook’s mesmerising, stylised performance, meanwhile, recall silent film.

This masterpiece of atmosphere and suspense uses numerous innovations. When an unseen ghost invades Walbrook’s quarters, the sound you’re hearing is buildings being blasted during the Blitz, mixed with winds from the Scott of the Antarctic soundtrack and the noise of a jet engine reversed. Budgetary constraints influenced the striking visual style while doing nothing to hamper Dickinson’s ambition. The incredible cathedral sequence utilised the following props: one column, one “flat”, one doorway.

This welcome release will not only satiate Radio 4’s audience, but should see The Queen of Spades re-established as one of the most extraordinary films ever to emerge from these Isles. (4)

This review was written for the January 2010 MovieMail catalogue.

Sex, death and Boris Karloff - Reviews #1

Hello - and welcome to Advice to the Lovelorn, which is going to be like that thing I used to do on the Advertiser website, but much, much better. And much shorter, which is sort of the same thing. Future posts promise such exciting fare as previously unpublished interviews, previously unread features and the enthusiastic plugging of the career of folk singer Ruth Notman. But we'll begin with a handful of reviews.

The post title sums up most of my viewing, truth be told, so I might be forced to repeat it a few dozen times this year.

Films are rated from one (Spice World) to four (The Searchers), in the style of Uncle Len.


The Big Easy (Jim McBride, 1986) - I'd always wondered why Dennis Quaid was a star - and now I know. He's excellent here as a Cajun cop with a shark grin and a sideline in the protection racket. The Big Easy is a richly atmospheric New Orleans-set thriller charting two investigations that dovetail into one, in typical (neo-)noir fashion. The first sees Quaid looking into a series of grisly murders - apparently the result of a drug war. The second has DA Ellen Barkin tackling suspected police corruption, and being drawn towards charismatic tough guy Quaid. The dialogue in the opening scene is a touch mannered, but soon the stylised exchanges start to ring true, and the smart plotting, fine Cajun song score and sizzling Quaid-Barkin chemistry begin to work their magic. Though the whodunnit element is a little too obvious, this is a fine piece of work, and vastly superior to the similar Sea of Love. I never thought I'd say this - but which other Dennis Quaid movies are worth seeking out? (3.5)


Belieing the De Mille-esque title, Pagan Love Song (Robert Alton, 1950) turns out to be an unexceptional but pleasant Tahiti-set musical, with Oklahoman Howard Keel inheriting a plantation and falling for splashy Esther Williams. Despite Harry Warren and Arthur Freed providing the bulk of the score, there are no real standouts beside the title tune, while the swimming set pieces skimp on the splendour. Still, lovely scenery and nice playing by the leads make it decent escapism. Trivia note: this one has only the third song I've ever seen performed on bikes, after the one in Mad About Music and There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, by The Smiths. Exalted company indeed. (2.5)


SHORT - Curious Contests (Pete Smith, 1950) - From A Smith Named Pete comes this collection of peculiar competitive customs, taking in train wheel-turning, basket-carrying and marathon dancing - the latter utterly tragic if one considers the context. It's pretty good, though Smith's commentary is less amusing than normal, tipping over into self-parody. (2.5)


SHORT - The Chump Champ (Tex Avery, 1950) - Decent Droopy short, with the melancholic, deceptively nippy dog taking part in an athletics event, and somehow contriving to lose. Sort of. Droopy's delivery makes me laugh; the jokes are mostly good. (3)


Tarzan and the Amazons (Kurt Neumann, 1945) is a pretty joyless third entry in the low-budget RKO continuation, following the very strong Tarzan's Desert Mystery. Boy (Johnny Sheffield) is being sullen and stupid - ignoring Tarz's best advice as he helps lead a dodgy expedition to a rich land ruled by women. Then Muscles has to go and bail him out. Wooden acting and predictable plotting sink it, after a reasonable opening. Brenda Joyce appears as the returning Jane - her first entry in the series - with Barton MacLane your arch villain. The cast also includes Henry Stephenson, as key supporting players of the '30s and early '40s find themselves somewhat slumming. (2)


Isle of the Dead (Mark Robson, 1945)
was one of a string of stunning horrors from genre pioneer Val Lewton, including The Seventh Victim, I Walked With a Zombie and Cat People. It's an ensemble piece set in Greece in 1912, with Boris Karloff as an aged general who travels to a nearby island to pay tribute to his deceased wife and finds himself quarantined with a journalist (yeah!), a woozy Brit, a nervy married couple with a secret, a peasant girl who may be pure evil (Frances Dee) and a scary old bag. It starts off slowly, with a jumble of accents and some patchy pacing, but builds to a genuinely terrifying climax. Lewton's trademarks - shadows, sudden jolts and a fondness for employing folk music to eerie effect - are all present and correct, while the script has his usual depth and intelligence. No other horror scribe would have bothered with Karloff's touching line about his wife or imbued Dee's fear-fuelled monologue with such pathos and uncertainty. As the Fred and Ginger films (also at RKO) contained passages of transcendent wonder, their feet seeming to grow wings, so Lewton's movies boast stretches of pure poetry: heightened, superbly constructed set pieces where everything is that bit sharper, slicker and more inventive. The one that climaxes Isle of the Dead is simply brilliant: seven minutes of nerve-shredding terror as a comatose woman is entombed, a white-clad apparition haunts a graveyard and the more earthly Karloff spends his final moments trying to stab Frances Dee to death. (3.5)

Thanks for reading. There's more on the way.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Advice to the Lovelorn - Reviews database

Your host, Rick Burin.

Here's a list of all the films, plays, gigs and TV series reviewed on the blog - along with a few articles - all complete with links. Films are rated from one star (Spice World) to four (The Searchers). I think four is the higher mark.

Often you'll find six or seven (or 30) movies in a single post, so once you get there you may have to scroll down a bit to find what you want... but hopefully that's OK. You might find something else of interest on the way.


Step 1) Read about the 202 greatest movie performances of all time. Step 2) Disagree strongly.
Bing Crosby's producer Geoff Milne tells us about working with 'The Groaner'.
Buster Keaton shorts special. (And bits and bobs of Buster here.)
We ask the wonderful Christian McKay about playing Orson Welles. Sample quote: "Oh no, not him, he's a fat American."
Some stuff about Claire Danes.
What happened when Deanna Durbin met Jean Renoir.
Have I mentioned how much I like Fairuza Balk?
Musings on the majesty of Frank Borzage.
I hold the Internastional Hayley Mills Film Festival in my house.
Ken Russell reviewed.
Lee Tracy - An introduction to the motormouth '30s comedian, who wrecked his career in an all-new way.
A load of lies about my life.
We watch a pre-release version of John Ford's My Darling Clementine and explain just what was lost by the producer's over-zealous cuts.
My favourite 100 movies, as of August 2011.
Myrna Loy - A profile of the Thin Man star.
Nine things I like about movies.
The Olympic torch passes through Harrogate. Some argumentative stuff about why the Oscars are rubbish.
Comedian Richard Herring tells us why he's grown a "Hitler moustache".
Speaking of Nazis, Rudolf Hess crashlanded in Scotland in '41. We talked to his guard. Main article there, interview transcript here.
The Searchers - 4,000 ill-chosen words on our Western of choice.
Shark Attack 3 is our sole area of expertise. Pity us.
Your host gets a swollen head after being commended in the O2 Media Awards 2010. And 2011.
Terence Davies - An in-depth chat with the great British director.
And a little something we wrote for The Guardian about Warner Bros' blooper reels of the '30s and '40s.


Features (679)

Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (S. Sylvan Simon, 1945) **
Adam's Rib (George Cukor, 1949) ***
The Adjustment Bureau (George Nolfi, 2011) ***1/2
Adventures of Mark Twain, The (Will Vinton, 1985) **1/2
Affectionately Yours (Lloyd Bacon, 1941) **1/2
Ah, Wilderness! (Clarence Brown, 1935) ****
All of Me (Carl Reiner, 1984) **1/2
Along Came Jones (Stuart Heisler, 1945) ****
Amazing Adventure,The (Alfred Zeisler, 1936) **
Amazing Mrs. Holliday, The (Bruce Manning, 1943) **1/2
American History X (Tony Kaye, 1998) ***
Americanisation of Emily, The (Arthur Hiller, 1964) ***1/2
American Tail, An (Don Bluth, 1986) ***
America's Sweethearts (Joe Roth, 2001) ***
American: The Bill Hicks Story (Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas, 2009) **1/2
Analyse This (Harold Ramis, 1999) **
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay, 2004) ***
And So They Were Married (Elliot Nugent, 1936) ***
Angel Doll, The (Alexander Johnston, 2002) **
Angst essen Seele auf (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974) aka Ali: Fear Eats the Soul ***
Anne of Green Gables (George Nichols, Jr., 1934) ***
Anne of Windy Poplars (Jack Hively, 1940) ***
Anvil: The Story of Anvil (Sacha Gervasi, 2008) ***1/2
Apa (István Szabó, 1966) aka Father **1/2
Artist, The (Michel Hanavicius, 2011) ***1/2
Arthur Christmas 3D (Sarah Smith, 2011) ***1/2
Apartment, The (Billy Wilder, 1960) ****
Après Vous (Pierre Salvadori, 2003) ***1/2
Aristocrats, The (Paul Provenza, 2005) *
Arnacoeur, L' (Pascal Chaumeil, 2010) aka Heartbreaker ***1/2
Arthur (Steve Gordon, 1981) ***
Artists and Models (Frank Tashlin, 1955) **1/2
Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The (Andrew Dominik, 2007) **1/2
Assassination of Richard Nixon, The (Niels Muller, 2004) **1/2
Atonement (Joe Wright, 2007) **1/2
Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, 2011) ****
Au hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966) ***
Avatar: Special Edition (James Cameron, 2010) **
Avengers Assemble 3D (Josh Whedon, 2012) **1/2
Awful Truth, The (Leo McCarey, 1937) ****
Babe: Pig in the City (George Miller, 1998) **1/2
Backbeat (Iain Softley, 1994) **1/2
Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff, 2003) ***
Bagdad Cafe (Percy Adlon, 1987) **1/2
Bai ga jai (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, 1981) aka The Prodigal Son ***1/2
Barbary Coast (Howard Hawks, 1935) **1/2
Barcelona (Whit Stillman, 1994) ****
Baxter, The (Michael Showalter, 2005) ***1/2
Beauty and the Boss (Roy Del Ruth, 1932) ***
Bee Movie (Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith, 2007) ***
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Sidney Lumet, 2007) ***1/2
Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry, 2008) ***
Bell, Book and Candle (Richard Quine, 1958) ***
Belle of New York, The (Charles Walters, 1952) **1/2
Bells Are Ringing (Vincente Minnelli, 1960) ***1/2
Bewitched (Nora Ephron, 2005) **1/2
Big (Penny Marshall, 1988) ***
Big Bounce, The (George Armitage, 2004) **
Big Business (Jim Abrahams, 1988) **
Big Combo, The (Joseph H. Lewis, 1955) ***1/2
Big Easy, The (Jim McBride, 1986) ***1/2
Big Hand for the Little Lady, A (Fielder Cook, 1966) ***
Big Year, The (David Frankel, 2011) **1/2
Black Dahlia, The (Brian DePalma, 2006) **1/2
Black Dynamite (Scott Sanders, 2009) **1/2
Black Pirate, The (Albert Parker, 1926) ****
Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010) ***
Blessed Event (Roy Del Ruth, 1932) ****
Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010) ****
Bobby Fischer Against the World (Liz Garbus, 2011) ****
Bolt (Byron Howard and Chris Williams, 2008) ***
Borat (Larry Charles, 2006) **1/2
Born to Dance (Roy Del Ruth, 1938) ***
Born Yesterday (George Cukor, 1950) ****
Bourne Supremacy, The (Paul Greengrass, 2004) ***1/2
Bourne Ultimatum, The (Paul Greengrass, 2007) ***1/2
Boy Friend, The (Ken Russell, 1972) ****
Bowfinger (Frank Oz, 1999) **1/2
Boys Town (Norman Taurog, 1938) ***1/2
The Bride Came C.O.D. (William Keighley, 1941) ***
Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011) ***
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (Beeban Kidron, 2004) **
Bridget Jones's Diary (Sharon Maguire, 2001) **
Bridge to Terabithia (Gabor Csupo, 2007) ***1/2
Broadway Melody of 1936 (Roy Del Ruth, 1935) ***
Broadway Melody of 1938 (Roy Del Ruth, 1937) ***
Brothers Solomon, The (Bob Odenkirk, 2007) **1/2
Bruno (Larry Charles, 2009) ***
Buffalo Bill (William A. Wellman, 1944) **
Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (Louis King, 1937) *1/2
Bulldog Drummond Escapes (James P. Hogan, 1937) **1/2
Bulldog Drummond’s Bride (James P. Hogan, 1939) *1/2
Bull Durham (Ron Shelton, 1988) **1/2
‘burbs, The (Joe Dante, 1989) **1/2
Burn! (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1969) **1/2
Cameraman, The (Edward Sedgwick, 1928) ****
Can't Help Singing (Frank Ryan, 1944) ***
Capitalism: A Love Story (Michael Moore, 2009) ***1/2
Cars (John Lasseter and John Ranft, 2006) **1/2
Cars 2 3D (John Lasseter and Brad Lewis, 2011) **1/2
Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006) **1/2
Cassandra’s Dream (Woody Allen, 2007) *
Castle, The (Rob Sitch, 1997) **1/2
Cat and the Canary, The (Radley Metzger, 1978) **
Catch-22 (Mike Nichols, 1970) **1/2
Cat's Paw, The (Sam Taylor, 1934) ***
Château de ma mère, Le (Yves Robert, 1990) aka My Mother's Castle ***1/2
Cheyenne Social Club, The (Gene Kelly, 1970) ***
Chisum (Andrew V. McLaglen, 1970) *1/2
Choristes, Les (Christophe Barratier, 2004) ****
Cinema Paradiso: Director's Cut (Giusseppe Tornatore, 1988) ****
Circus, The (Charles Chaplin, 1928) ***1/2
Cité des enfants perdus, La (Mark Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1995) aka The City of Lost Children **1/2
City for Conquest (Anatole Litvak, 1940) **1/2
City Hall (Harold Becker, 1996) **
Clerks II (Kevin Smith, 2006) **1/2
Client, The (Joel Schumacher, 1994) **1/2
Close My Eyes (Stephen Poliakoff, 1991) ***
Coach Carter (Thomas Carter, 2005) ***
Con Air (Simon West, 1997) **1/2
Confessions of Boston Blackie (Edward Dmytryk, 1941) ****
Coroner Creek (Ray Enright, 1948) *1/2
Cover Girl (Charles Vidor, 1944) ***
The Cowboy and the Lady (H.C. Potter, 1938) **1/2
Crazy, Stupid, Love (Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, 2011) ***1/2
That was a big screen viewing. Here's the DVD one.
Criminal Lawyer (Christy Cabanne, 1937) ***
Cry of the City (Robert Siodmark, 1948) ***1/2
Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011) ****
Dancing at Lughnasa (Pat O'Connor, 1996) **1/2
Dancing Lady (Robert Z. Leonard, 1933) **1/2
Dangerous Money (Terry O. Morse, 1946) **1/2
Dan in Real Life (Peter Hedges, 2007) ***1/2
Daredevil (Mark Steven Johnson, 2003) ***
Dark Alibi (Phil Karlson, 1946) **1/2
Dark Blue (Ron Shelton, 2002) **1/2
Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993) ***
De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté (Jacques Audiard, 2005) aka The Beat That My Heart Skipped ***1/2
Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970) ****
Desperado (Robert Rodriguez, 1995) **1/2
Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman, 1985) ***
Despicable Me (Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, 2010) ***1/2
De vrais mensonges (Pierre Salvadori, 2010) aka Beautiful Lies **
Dimanches de Ville d'Avray, Les (Serge Bourguignon, 1962) aka Sundays and Cybele ****
Dîner de cons, Le (Francis Veber, 1998) ***1/2 NB: Review is only five words long.
Distinguished Gentleman (Jonathan Lynn, 1992) ***
Divorce of Lady X, The (Zoltan Korda, 1938) ***
Docks of New York, The (Josef von Sternberg, 1928) ****
Doctor Takes a Wife, The (Alexander Hall, 1940) ***
Don't Come Knocking (Wim Wenders, 2005) ***
Down with Love (Peyton Reed, 2003) **1/2
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011) ***1/2
Dr. Jack (Fred C. Newmeyer, 1922) ***
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1963) ***1/2
Dude Goes West, The (Kurt Neumann, 1948) ***
Dust Factory, The (Eric Small, 2004) ***
Easy A (Will Gluck, 2010) ***1/2
Edison, the Man (Clarence Brown, 1940) ***
Education, An (Lone Scherfig, 2009) ***
Eight Men Out (John Sayles, 1988) ***
Elizabeth (Shekhar Kapur, 1998) *1/2
El Mariachi (Robert Rodriguez, 1992) ***1/2
Enchanted (Kevin Lima, 2007) ****
Enchanted Cottage, The (John Cromwell, 1945) ****
Equilibrium (Kurt Wimmer, 2002) **1/2
Failure to Launch (Tom Dey, 2006) *1/2 Falcon in San Francisco, The (Joseph H. Lewis, 1945) **1/2
Fallen Idol, The (Carol Reed, 1948) ****
Family Stone, The (Thomas Bezucha, 2005) *1/2
Family Way, The (Roy Boulting, 1966) ***
Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002) ***1/2
Fei lung maang jeung (Sammo Hung, 1988) aka Dragons Forever
Fellini's Roma (Federico Fellini, 1972) **
Femme est une femme, Une (Jean-Luc Godard, 1961) aka A Woman Is a Woman **1/2
F for Fake (Orson Welles, 1973) **1/2
50/50 (Jonathan Levine, 2011) ***1/2
Fighter, The (David O. Russell, 2010) ***
Fils de l'épicier, Le (Eric Guirado, 2007) aka The Grocer's Son ***
Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, 2003) ***
Fire in Babylon (Stevan Riley, 2010) ***
Five-Year Engagement, The (Nicholas Stoller, 2012) ***
Flickan som lekte med elden: Extended Edition (Niels Arden Oplev, 2009) aka The Girl Who Played with Fire ***1/2
Flirtation Walk (Frank Borzage, 1934) **1/2
Flushed Away (David Bowers and Sam Fell, 2006) ***
Folies Bergère de Paris (Roy Del Ruth, 1935) ***1/2
Forget Paris (Billy Crystal, 1995) **1/2
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Nicholas Stoller, 2008) **1/2
For Heaven's Sake (Sam Taylor, 1926) ****
For the Love of Mary (Frederick de Cordova, 1948) **1/2
Fort Worth (Edwin L. Marin, 1951) **1/2
Four Christmases (Seth Gordon, 2008) *1/2
Four Faces West (Alfred E. Green, 1948) ***
Four Lions (Chris Morris, 2010) ***1/2
Four's a Crowd (Michael Curtiz, 1938) ***
Fred Claus (David Dobkin, 2007) **
French Line, The (Lloyd Bacon, 1953) *1/2
From Dusk Till Dawn (Robert Rodriguez, 1996) ***1/2
From the Ashes (James Erskine, 2011) ***
Full Monty, The (Peter Cattaneo, 1997) ***
Funny Face (Stanley Donen, 1957) **
Galaxy Quest (Dean Parisot, 1998) ***
Gas Food Lodging (Allison Anders, 1992) ***1/2
Gattopardo, Il (Luchino Visconti, 1963) aka The Leopard ****
George Harrison: Living in the Material World (Martin Scorsese, 2010) **
Ghost Town (David Koepp, 2008) ***
Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001) ****
Girl Crazy (Norman Taurog, 1943) ****
Give a Girl a Break (Stanley Donen, 1953) ***
Glengarry Glen Ross (David Mamet, 1992) ****
Gloire de mon père, La (Yves Robert, 1990) aka My Father's Glory ****
Glorious 39 (Stephen Poliakoff, 2009) ***
Godfather, The (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) ****
Godfather Part II, The (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) ****
Godfather Part III, The (Francis Ford Coppola, 1990) **1/2
Good Girls Go to Paris (Alexander Hall, 1939) **1/2
Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney, 2005) ***
Grande seduction, La (Jean Francois Pouilot, 2003) aka Seducing Doctor Lewis ***1/2
Grandma's Boy (Fred C. Newmeyer, 1922) ****
Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, 2008) **1/2
Great Garrick, The (James Whale, 1937) ***
Greenberg (Noah Baumbach, 2010) ***
Green Hornet, The (Michel Gondry, 2011) **1/2
Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984) ***1/2
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Joe Dante, 1990) **1/2
Guard, The (John Michael McDonagh, 2011) ***
Guest Wife (Sam Wood, 1945) **1/2
Gumshoe (Stephen Frears, 1971) ****
Haine, La (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995) ****
Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, 2006) ****
Hallelujah I’m a Bum (Lewis Milestone, 1933) ****
Hall Pass (Bobby and Peter Farrelly, 2011) **1/2
Hancock (Peter Berg, 2008) **1/2
Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen, 1986) ****
Happy Feet (George Miller, Warren Coleman and Judy Morris, 2006) *1/2
Hard Candy (David Slade, 2005) ****
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (David Yates, 2011) ***1/2 - with notes on the first seven films
Has Anybody Seen My Gal (Douglas Sirk, 1952) ***
Head (Bob Rafelson, 1968) **1/2
Heathers (Michael Lehmann, 1988) ***
Heaven Can Wait (Ernst Lubitsch, 1943) ****
Hellboy (Guillermo del Toro, 2004) **1/2
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Guillermo del Toro, 2008) **1/2
Hellzapoppin' (H.C. Potter, 1941) ***
Here Comes the Groom (Frank Capra, 1951) ***
He’s Just Not That into You (Ken Kwapis, 2009) **1/2
Hit the Deck (Roy Rowland, 1955) ***
Hoax, The (Lasse Hallström, 2006) ***1/2
Hollywoodland (Allen Coulter, 2006) **1/2
Hot Water (Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, 1924) **1/2
Houseboat (Melville Shavelson, 1958) ***
House on 92nd Street, The (Henry Hathaway, 1945) **1/2
How Do You Know (James L. Brooks, 2010) ***
How to Train Your Dragon 3D (Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders) ***
Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011) ***1/2
Human Comedy, The (Clarence Brown, 1943) ****
Ice Age (Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha, 2002) **1/2
Ice Age: The Meltdown (Carlos Saldanha, 2006) ***
Ides of March, The (George Clooney, 2011) ***
Idiocracy (Mike Judge, 2006) ***
I Know Where I'm Going! (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1945) ****
I'll Be Yours (William A. Seiter, 1947) **
I’ll Take Romance (Edward H. Griffith, 1937) **1/2
I Love Trouble (Charles Shyer, 1994) ***
I'm All Right Jack (John Boulting, 1959) **1/2
I Met Him in Paris (Wesley Ruggles, 1937) **1/2
I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007) **1/2
In & Out (Frank Oz, 1997) **
Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) ***1/2
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Steven Spielberg, 2008) *1/2
Indiscreet (Stanley Donen, 1958) **
Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009) **1/2
Inside Job (Charles H. Ferguson, 2010) ****
Insider, The (Michael Mann, 1999) ***1/2
Invincible (Ericson Core, 2006) ***1/2
Iron Man (Jon Favreau, 2008) **
Iron Mask, The (Allan Dwan, 1929) ***1/2
Isle of the Dead (Mark Robson, 1945) ***1/2
It Happened Here (Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, 1966) *** It Happens Every Spring (Lloyd Bacon, 1949) ****
It Happens Every Thursday (Joseph Pevney, 1953) ***1/2
I, the Jury (Harry Essex, 1953) ***1/2
It's a Date (William A. Seiter, 1940) ***
It Should Happen to You (George Cukor, 1954) ****
It's Love I'm After (Archie Mayo, 1937) ****
Jane Eyre (Robert Stevenson, 1943) ***
Jimmy the Gent (Michael Curtiz, 1934) ***1/2
Just Off Broadway (Herbert I. Leeds, 1942) **1/2
Keeper of the Flame (George Cukor, 1942) **1/2
Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn, 2010) ***
Kicking and Screaming (Noah Baumbach, 1995) ***1/2
Kicking & Screaming (Jesse Dylan, 2005) *
Kidnappers, The (Philip Leacock, 1953) **1/2
Kids Are All Right, The (Lisa Cholodenko, 2010) ***
Killer Elite, The (Sam Peckinpah, 1975) **
Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977) ***1/2
King of the Hill (Steven Soderbergh, 1993) ****
King's Speech, The (Tom Hooper, 2010) ****
King's Thief, The (Robert Z. Leonard, 1955) ***1/2
Knight and Day (James Mangold, 2010) **1/2
Knocked Up (Judd Apatow, 2007) **1/2
Kung Fu Panda (Mark Osborne and John Stevenson, 2008) ***
Kung Fu Panda 2 3D (Jennifer Yuh Nelson, 2011) ***1/2
Kynodontas (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009) aka Dogtooth ****
Lady Be Good (Norman Z. McLeod, 1941) **1/2
Lady for a Day (Frank Capra, 1933) ****
Lady Godiva Rides Again (Frank Launder, 1951) **
Lady Windermere's Fan (Ernst Lubitsch, 1925) ***
Land of the Lost (Brad Silberling, 2009) **1/2
Larceny, Inc. (Lloyd Bacon, 1942) ***1/2
Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie, 2007) ***
Last Days of Disco, The (Whit Stillman, 1998) ***1/2
Last Gangster, The (Edward Ludwig, 1937) ***
Last Gentleman, The (Sidney Lanfield, 1934) ***
Last of England, The (Derek Jarman, 1988) **1/2
Låt den rätte komma in (Tomas Alfredson, 2008) aka Let the Right One In ****
L.A. Story (Mick Jackson, 1991) ***
Lawless Street, A (Joseph H. Lewis, 1955) ***1/2
League of Their Own, A (Penny Marshall, 1992) ***
Leap Year (Anand Tucker, 2010) *1/2
Leather Boys, The (Sidney J. Furie, 1964) **
Les enfants du paradis (Marcel Carné, 1945) ****
Let Him Have It (Peter Medak, 1991) ***1/2
Let's Make It Legal (Richard Sale, 1951) **
Letzte Mann, Der (F. W. Murnau, 1924) aka The Last Laugh **
Liliom (Frank Borzage, 1930) *1/2
Lincoln Lawyer, The (Brad Furman, 2011) ***
List of Adrian Messenger, The (John Huston, 1963) **
Little Fugitive (Ray Ashley and Morris Engel, 1953) ****
Little Giant (Roy Del Ruth, 1933) **1/2
Littlest Light on the Christmas Tree, The (Anthony and John Gentile, 2004) ** DTV
Long Gray Line, The (John Ford, 1959) **
Long Kiss Goodnight, The (Renny Harlin, 1996) ***1/2
Lookout, The (Scott Frank, 2007) ****
Love in the Afternoon (Billy Wilder, 1957) ***1/2
Lovely to Look At (Mervyn LeRoy, 1952) ***
Love on the Run (W.S. Van Dyke, 1936) ***
Lucky Star (Frank Borzage, 1928) ****
Luftslottet som sprängdes: Extended Edition (Niels Arden Oplev, 2009) aka The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest ***
Machete (Robert Rodriguez, 2010) **1/2
Magicians (Andrew O'Connor, 2007) **
Major Barbara (Gabriel Pascal, 1941) ***1/2 A second review, in which I understood it better, got very over-excited and gave it a full **** is here.
Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937) ****
Male Animal, The (Elliot Nugent, 1942) ***1/2
Malena (Giuseppe Tornatore, 2000) ***
Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008) *
Man, The (Les Mayfield, 2005) *
Manderlay (Lars von Trier, 2005) ***1/2
Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979) ****
Man on the Eiffel Tower, The (Burgess Meredith, 1949) **
Män som hatar kvinnor (Niels Arden Oplev, 2009) aka The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo **** Extended Edition ****
Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006) *1/2
Mariée était en noir, La (Francois Truffaut, 1968) aka The Bride Wore Black **1/2
Mark of Zorro, The (Fred Niblo, 1920) ***1/2
Mars Attacks! (Tim Burton, 1996) **1/2
MatchMaker, The (Mark Joffe, 1997) **1/2
Me and Orson Welles (Richard Linklater, 2008) ***
Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004) ***
Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010) **1/2
Megamind (Tom McGrath, 2010) ***
Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011) ***
Melvin and Howard (Jonathan Demme, 1980) ***
Menschen am Sonntag (Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer, 1929) aka People on Sunday ****
Mépris, Le (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963) **
Mesrine: L'ennemi public n°1 (Jean-François Richet, 2008) aka Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 ***1/2
Mesrine: L'instinct de mort (Jean-François Richet, 2008) aka Mesrine: Killer Instinct ***
Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, 2011) ***1/2
Million Dollar Mermaid (Mervyn Le Roy, 1952) **1/2
Mirage (Edward Dymtryk, 1965) ***1/2
Miss Firecracker (Thomas Schlamme, 1989) **1/2
Miss Potter (Chris Noonan, 2006) **1/2
Mogambo (John Ford, 1953) **1/2
Mon meilleur ami (Patrice Leconte, 2006) aka My Best Friend ***
Mona Lisa (Neil Jordan, 1986) ****
Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012) ***1/2 There's a link to the related animation under 'SHORTS'.
Monsters (Gareth Edwards, 2010) ***1/2
Monstre à Paris, Un (Bibo Bergeron, 2011) aka A Monster in Paris ***
Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009) ****
Moon Is Blue, The (Otto Preminger, 1953) ***
Movie Crazy (Clyde Bruckman, 1932) ***
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Frank Capra, 1936) ****
Mr. Jealousy (Noah Baumbach, 1997) **1/2
Mr. Nice (Bernard Rose, 2010) **1/2
Mr. Woodcock (Craig Gillespie, 2007) *
My Ain Folk (Bill Douglas, 1973) ***1/2
My Childhood (Bill Douglas, 1972) ****
My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964) **1/2
My Father, the Hero (Steve Miner, 1994) *1/2
My Sister Eileen (Alexander Hall, 1942) ***1/2
My Sister Eileen (Richard Quine, 1955) ***1/2
My Super Ex-Girlfriend (Ivan Reitman, 2006) **1/2
Mystery Men (Kinka Usher, 1999) **1/2
My Way Home (Bill Douglas, 1978) ***1/2
My Week with Marilyn (Simon Curtis, 2011) **
My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007) ***1/2
Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, The (David Zucker, 1988) **1/2
Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, The (David Zucker, 1991) **
Nanny McPhee (Kirk Jones, 2005) ***
Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang (Susanna White, 2010) ****
Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek, 2010) ****
Never Say Goodbye (James V. Kern, 1946) ***
Never Wave at a WAC (Norman Z. McLeod, 1953) *1/2
New Orleans (Arthur Lubin, 1947) **1/2
Night My Number Came Up, The (Leslie Norman, 1955) ***1/2
Night They Raided Minsky's, The (William Friedkin, 1968) ***1/2
No Direction Home (Martin Scorsese, 2005) ****
Notebook, The (Nick Cassavetes, 2004) ***
Nothing Lasts Forever (Tom Schiller, 1984) ***1/2
Nowhere Boy (Sam Taylor-Wood, 2009) ***
Ocean’s Twelve (Steven Soderberg, 2004) *1/2
Of Human Hearts (Clarence Brown, 1938) ***
Of Time and the City (Terence Davies, 2008) ***
Once Upon a Time in Mexico (Robert Rodriguez, 2003) **
One Dangerous Night (Michael Gordon, 1943) **1/2
One Sunday Afternoon (Stephen Roberts, 1933) ****
One, Two, Three (Billy Wilder, 1961) ****
Only You (Norman Jewison, 1994) **1/2
Opposite Sex, The (David Miller, 1956) **
Other Guys, The (Adam McKay, 2010) ****
Our Town (Sam Wood, 1940) ***
Our Wife (John M. Stahl, 1941) **1/2
Outcast of the Islands (Carol Reed, 1951) ***
Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh, 1998) ***
Outrageous Fortune (Arthur Hiller, 1987) **1/2
Over the Moon (Thornton Freeland, 1939) **
Pagan Love Song (Robert Alton, 1950) **1/2
Pal Joey (George Sidney, 1957) ***
Panique au village (Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, 2009) aka A Town Called Panic ***1/2
Paper Moon (Peter Bogdanovich, 1973) ****
Parent Trap, The (David Swift, 1961) ***1/2
Park Row (Samuel Fuller, 1952) ***
Parole Officer, The (John Duigan, 2001) **1/2
Partie de campagne (Jean Renoir, 1936) ****
Passport to Suez (Andre de Toth, 1943) **1/2
Paul (Greg Mottola, 2011) **1/2
Perfect Specimen (Michael Curtiz, 1937), The **1/2
Perrier’s Bounty (Ian Fitzgibbon, 2009) **
Perro, El (Carlos Sorin, 2004) aka Bombon: El Perro ***1/2
Personal Property (W.S. Van Dyke II, 1937) ***
Phffft! (Mark Robson, 1954) ***1/2
Piano, The (Jane Campion, 1993) ***
Pickup on South Street (Samuel Fuller, 1953) ****
Picnic (Joshua Logan, 1955) ***
Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green, 2008) **1/2
Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, The (Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt, 2012) ***1/2
Play Time (Jacques Tati, 1967) *1/2
Ploughman’s Lunch, The (Richard Eyre, 1983) **1/2
Pollyanna (David Swift, 1960) ****
Poseidon Adventure, The (Ronald Neame, 1972) ***1/2
Postino, Il (Michael Radford, 1994) aka The Postman ***1/2
Prestige, The (Christopher Nolan, 2006) ****
Pretty in Pink (John Hughes, 1986) ****
Princess and the Frog, The (Ron Clements and John Musker, 2009) ***
Proposal, The (Anne Fletcher, 2009) **1/2
Proud Valley, The (Pen Tennyson, 1937) **1/2
Public Menace, The (Erle C. Kenton, 1935) ***
Pulp (Mike Hodges, 1972) **
Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002) ****
Pushover (Richard Quine, 1954) **1/2
Pygmalion (Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, 1938) ****
Quai des Orfèvres (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1947) ****
Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, 2008) **1/2
Queen, The (Stephen Frears, 2006) **1/2
Queen of Spades, The (Thorold Dickinson, 1949) ****
Quick Change (Howard Franklin and Bill Murray, 1990) ***1/2
Ragtime (Milos Forman, 1981) ***
Rainbow, The (Ken Russell, 1989) **
Rainmaker, The (Francis Ford Coppola, 1997) ***1/2
Rango (Gore Verbinski, 2011) **1/2
Ratatouille (Brad Bird, 2007) ***1/2
Rayon vert, Le (Eric Rohmer, 1986) aka The Green Ray ***
Red Rock West (John Dahl, 1993) ***
Rendez-vous de Paris, Les (Eric Rohmer, 1995) aka Rendezvous in Paris ****
Return of Frank James, The (Fritz Lang, 1940) **1/2
Return to Oz (Walter Murch, 1985) ****
Ride Clear of Diablo (Jesse Hibbs, 1954) ***
Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, The (Kevin Billington, 1971) ***
River, The (Frank Borzage, 1929) ***1/2
Robin Hood (Allan Dwan, 1922) ****
RoboCop 2 (Irvin Kershner, 1990) *1/2
Role Models (David Wain, 2008) ***1/2
Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953) ****
Royal Scandal, A (Otto Preminger, 1945) ***1/2
Run, Fatboy, Run (David Schwimmer, 2007) ***
Run of the Arrow, The (Samuel Fuller, 1957) **1/2
Rush Hour 3 (Brett Ratner, 2007) *1/2
Sailor-Made Man, A (Fred C. Newmeyer, 1921) ***
Sailor of the King (Roy Boulting, 1953) **1/2
Saint's Double Trouble, The (Jack Hively, 1940) **
Sally of the Sawdust (D. W. Griffith, 1925) ***
Sarah Palin – You Betcha! (Nick Broomfield, 2011) ***
The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry, 2006) ***1/2
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright, 2010) **1/2
Secret of Roan Inish, The (John Sayles, 1994) ****
Semi-Pro (Kent Alterman, 2008) **
Senna (Asif Kapadia, 2010) ***
Separate Lies (Julian Fellowes, 2005) **
Separate Tables (Delbert Mann, 1958) ****
Serendipity (Peter Chelsom, 2001) ***
7th Heaven (Frank Borzage, 1927) ****
Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer, 2000) ***1/2
Shadow, The (Russell Mulcahy, 1994) **1/2
Shallow Hal (Bobby and Peter Farrelly, 2001) ***
She Knew All the Answers (Richard Wallace, 1941) **1/2
Shepherd of the Hills, The (Henry Hathaway, 1941) ****
Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie, 2009) **1/2
She Wouldn't Say Yes (Alexander Hall, 1945) **
Shopgirl (Anand Tucker, 2005) **1/2
Shorts (Robert Rodriguez, 2009) **
Show People (King Vidor, 1928) ***1/2
Shrek (Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, 2001) **1/2
Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010) **
Silk Stockings (Rouben Mamoulian, 1957) ***
Sirène du Mississipi, La (Francois Truffaut, 1969) aka Mississippi Mermaid ***
Sirens (John Duigan, 1993) **1/2
Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (Steve Roberts, 1980) ***1/2
Sixteen Candles (John Hughes, 1984) ***
Skeletons (Nick Whitfield, 2010) ***1/2 Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008) ****
Small Town Girl (László Kardos, 1953) ***1/2
Smart Blonde (Frank McDonald, 1937) ***1/2
Smart Woman (Gregory La Cava, 1931) ****
Social Network, The (David Fincher, 2010) ***1/2
Solid Gold Cadillac, The (Richard Quine, 1956) ***
Sons and Lovers (Jack Cardiff, 1962) ***
Source Code (Duncan Jones, 2011) ***1/2
South of St. Louis (Ray Enright, 1949) **
Speedy (Ted Wilde, 1928) **1/2
Spellbinder, The (Jack Hively, 1939) **
Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004) ***1/2
Spider-Man 3 (Sam Raimi, 2007) **1/2
Spiral Staircase, The (Robert Siodmak, 1945) ***
Spy Kids (Robert Rodriguez, 2001) ****
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (Robert Rodriguez, 2002) ****
Spy Kids 3: Game Over (Robert Rodriguez, 2003) *1/2
Stardust (Matthew Vaughn, 2007) ***1/2
Star Is Born, A (William A. Wellman, 1937) ****
Starlift (Roy Del Ruth, 1951) **1/2
Starsky & Hutch (Todd Phillips, 2004) **1/2
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas, 2005) **1/2
Station Agent, The (Thomas McCarthy, 2003) ****
Station West (Sidney Lanfield, 1948) ***1/2
Step Brothers (Adam McKay, 2008) **
Stranger Than Fiction (Marc Forster, 2006) ***
Street Angel (Frank Borzage, 1928) ****
Strong Man, The (Frank Capra, 1926) **1/2
Submarine (Richard Ayoade, 2010) ****
Summer Magic (James Neilson, 1963) ***
Summertime (David Lean, 1955) ***
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927) **** Sunshine Cleaning (Christine Jeffs, 2008) ***1/2
Super (James Gunn, 2010) ***
Super 8 (J.J. Abrams, 2011) **
Superman II (Richard Lester, 1980) **1/2
Sure Thing, The (Rob Reiner, 1985) ***1/2
Sweet and Lowdown (Woody Allen, 1999) ****
Sweet Hereafter, The (Atom Egoyan, 1997) ***
Sylvia Scarlett (George Cukor, 1935) **1/2
Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008) ****
Tabloid (Errol Morris, 2010) ****
Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (F. W. Murnau and Robert Flaherty, 1931) ***
Tagebuch einer Verlorenen(G.W. Pabst, 1929) aka Diary of a Lost Girl
Talk of the Town, The (George Stevens, 1942) ****
Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby (Adam McKay, 2006) **
Tall Stranger, The (Thomas Carr, 1957) **1/2
Tammy and the Bachelor (Joseph Pevney, 1957) ***
Tangled (Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, 2010) **1/2
Tao of Steve, The (Jenniphr Goodman, 2000) ***1/2
Tarzan and the Amazons (Kurt Neumann, 1945) **
Tarzan and the Huntress (Kurt Neumann, 1947) **1/2
Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (Kurt Neumann, 1946) **
Tarzan and the Mermaids (Robert Florey, 1948) *1/2
Taxi! (Roy Del Ruth, 1932) **1/2
Teacher's Pet (George Seaton, 1958) ***
Tea for Two (David Butler, 1950) **
Team America: World Police (Trey Parker, 2004) ****
Tell No Tales (Leslie Fenton, 1939) ***
Thank Your Lucky Stars (David Butler, 1943) ****
That Darn Cat! (Robert Stevenson, 1965) **
That's the Spirit (Charles Lamont, 1945) ****
Thieves Like Us (Robert Altman, 1974) ****
Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (Gary Fleder, 1995) ***
30 Minutes or Less (Ruben Fleischer, 2011) ***
36 Quai des Orfevres (Oliver Marchal, 2004) **1/2
This Thing Called Love (Alexander Hall, 1941) ***
Thor (Kenneth Branagh, 2011) ***
Three Caballeros, The (Norman Ferguson, 1944) *1/2
Three Musketeers, The (Fred Niblo, 1921) ***
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson, 2011) ***
Thorn in the Heart, The (Michel Gondry, 2009) **
Thousands Cheer (George Sidney, 1943) **1/2
Three Coins in the Fountain (Jean Negulesco, 1954) **
Three Loves Has Nancy (Richard Thorpe, 1938) **1/2
Three Men on a Horse (Mervyn LeRoy (uncredited), 1936) ****
Tiger Bay (J. Lee Thompson, 1959) ****
Time to Kill (Herbert I. Leeds, 1942) ***1/2
Time to Kill, A (Joel Schumacher, 1996) ***
Tin Men (Barry Levinson, 1987) ***1/2
Tin Pan Alley (Walter Lang, 1940) ***
Tirez sur le pianiste (Francois Truffaut, 1960) aka Shoot the Piano Player ****
Tom, Dick and Harry (Garson Kanin, 1941) ***1/2
Tomorrow at Seven (Ray Enright, 1933) **1/2
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream (Peter Bogdanovich, 2007) ****
Tonight or Never (Mervyn LeRoy, 1931) ***
Topaz (Alfred Hitchcock, 1969) **1/2
Torchy Blane.. Playing with Dynamite (Noel M. Smith, 1939) **1/2
Topkapi (Jules Dassin, 1964) ***1/2
Torrid Zone (William Keighley, 1940) ***1/2
Touch of Class, A (Melvin Frank, 1973) *
Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995) ***1/2
Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter and Ash Brannon, 1998) ***1/2
Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010) ****
Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (Harry Edwards, 1926) **1/2
Treatment, The (Oren Rudavsky, 2006) ***
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Elia Kazan, 1945) ****
Tree of Life, The (Terrence Malick, 2011) ***1/2
Trois Couleurs: Blanc (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994) aka Three Colours White *** Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller, 2008) **1/2
Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932) ****
Truth About Cats & Dogs, The (Michael Lehmann, 1996) ***
Tune in Tomorrow... (Jon Amiel, 1990) **
Turner & Hooch (Roger Spottiswoode, 1989) **
24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, 2002) ***
Twentieth Century (Howard Hawks, 1934) ****
21 Jump Street (Phil Lord and Chris Miller, 2012) ***1/2
Twilight (Robert Benton, 1998) **1/2
2 Days in Paris (Julie Delpy, 2007) ***1/2
Two Guys from Milwaukee (David Butler, 1946) ***1/2
Two Way Stretch (Robert Day, 1960) **
Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, 2009) ***1/2
Underworld (Josef von Sternberg, 1927) ***1/2
Upside Down: The Creation Records Story (Danny O'Connor, 2010) **1/2
U Turn (Oliver Stone, 2007) ***
Valmont (Milos Forman, 1987) ***1/2
Vie rêvée des anges (Erick Zonca, 1998), La aka The Dreamlife of Angels ****
Visitor, The (Thomas McCarthy, 2007) ****
Vozvrashchenie (Andrei Zvyagintsev, 2003) aka The Return ***1/2
Wah-Wah (Richard E. Grant, 2005) ***1/2
Waiting for Guffman (Christopher Guest, 1996) **1/2
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (Jake Kasdan, 2007) ***1/2
Walk the Line (James Mangold, 2005) ***
WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008) ***1/2
The War Lord (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1965) ***
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011) ****
We're Not Married (Edmund Goulding, 1952) **1/2
Wet Hot American Summer (David Wain, 2001) ***
What About Bob? (Frank Oz, 1991) *1/2
Whatever Works (Woody Allen, 2009) **1/2
When in Rome (Mark Steven Johnson, 2010) **
While You Were Sleeping (Jon Turteltaub, 1995) ***1/2
Why Worry? (Fred C. Newmeyer, 1923) ***
William + Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (Baz Luhrmann, 1996) ***
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (Frank Tashlin, 1957) ***1/2
Wimbledon (Richard Loncraine, 2004) **
Winter's Bone (Debra Granik, 2010) ****
Win Win (Thomas McCarthy, 2011) ***1/2
Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson, 1987) ****
Without a Clue (Thom Eberhardt, 1988) *1/2
Woman in Hiding (Michael Gordon, 1950) **1/2
Women in Love (Ken Russell, 1969) ***
Working Girl (Mike Nichols, 1988) **1/2
Wrestler, The (Darren Aronofsky, 2008) ***
X-Men (Bryan Singer, 2000) ***
X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn, 2011) ***
X-Men: The Last Stand (Brett Ratner, 2006) **
X2 (Bryan Singer, 2003) ****
Young Master, The (Jackie Chan, 1980) ****
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Woody Allen, 2010) **
Young in Heart, The (Richard Wallace, 1938) ****
Young Tom Edison (Norman Taurog, 1940) ****
Zazie dans le métro (Louis Malle, 1960) ***
Ziegfeld Follies (Various directors, 1945) ***
Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007) ***1/2
Zoolander (Ben Stiller, 2001) **1/2

Shorts (73)

Adventures of Andre and Wally B, The (Alvy Ray Smith, 1984) **
Allez-Oop (Charles Lamont, 1934) **
Banana (Kyle Balda and Samuel Tourneux, 2010) ***1/2
The Battle of Midway (John Ford, 1941) ***
Boat, The (Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton, 1921) ***1/2
Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson, 1992) ***
Boundin' (Bud Luckey and Roger Gould, 2003) ***1/2
BURN-E (Angus MacLane, 2008) *** DTV
Butcher Boy, The (Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, 1917) **1/2
The additional scenes shot for A Canterbury Tale (Michael Powell, 1944)
Cinderella (Lotte Reiniger, 1922) ***
Convict 13 (Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline, 1920) ***
Cops (Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton, 1922) ****
Cupid Takes a Holiday (William Watson, 1938) **
Curious Contests (Pete Smith, 1950) **1/2
Chump Champ, The (Tex Avery, 1950) ***
Day & Night (Teddy Newton, 2010) ***
Fall Guy, The (Pete Smith, 1955) **1/2
Falling Hare (Robert Clampett, 1943) **
Few Moments With Eddie Cantor, A (Lee DeForest, 1923) ***
Field and Scream (Tex Avery, 1955) ***1/2
Film (Alan Schneider, 1965) **1/2
Food and Magic (Jean Negulesco, 1943) **1/2
For the Birds (Ralph Eggleston, 2000) ***
Frozen North, The (Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline, 1922) **1/2
Geri's Game (Jan Pinkava, 1997) ***
Goat, The (Buster Keaton and Malcolm St. Clair, 1921) **** And there's a second review here.
Gold Ghost (Charles Lamont, 1934) **1/2
Grand Slam Opera (Buster Keaton and Charles Lamont, 1936) ***1/2
Hard Luck (Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline, 1921) ***1/2
Haunted House, The (Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline, 1921) ***
Hollywood - The Second Step (Felix E. Feist, 1936) **
Home Makeover (Kyle Balda and Samuel Tourneux, 2010) ***
Jack-Jack Attack (Brad Bird, 2005) ***
John Wayne and Chisum (Elliot Geisinger and Ronald Saland, 1970) *1/2
Knick Knack (John Lasseter, 1989/2003) ***1/2
Lifted (Gary Rydstrom, 2006) ****
Luxo, Jr. (John Lasseter, 1986) **1/2
Mater and the Ghostlight (John Lasseter and Dan Scanlon, 2006) **
Mike's New Car (Pete Docter and Roger Gould, 2002) ***
Moonrise Kingdom animation (Various, 2012) ***1/2 My Wife's Relations (Buster Keaton, 1922) ***1/2
Neighbors (Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline, 1921) ***1/2
One Froggy Evening (Chuck Jones, 1955) ***1/2
One Man Band (Mark Andrews and Andrew Jimenez, 2005) ***
Orientation Day (Kyle Balda and Samuel Tourneux, 2010) ***1/2
Our Gang Follies of 1936 (Gus Meins, 1935) ***
Paleface, The (Buster Keaton, 1922) ***
Pink Phink (Friz Freleng and Hawley Pratt, 1964) ***
Pirate Party on Catalina Isle (Charles "Buddy" Rogers, 1935) ** Play House, The (Buster Keaton, 1921) ***
Presto (Doug Sweetland, 2008) ****
Railrodder, The (Gerald Potterton, 1965) ***
Red's Dream (John Lasseter, 1987) ***
Reducing (Pete Smith, 1952) *1/2
Rhapsody in Black and Blue, A (Aubrey Scotto, 1932) ***1/2
Rough House, The (Roscoe Arbuckle, 1917) **
Scarecrow, The (Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline, 1920) ***
Sleepy Time Possum (Robert McKimson, 1951) *1/2
So You Want to Be a Bachelor (Richard L. Bare, 1951) *1/2
So You Want to Wear the Pants (Richard L. Bare, 1952) *1/2
Spring Offensive (Humphrey Jennings, 1940) ***
S.S. Ionian (Humphrey Jennings, 1939) **1/2
Stadtstreicher, Der (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1966) **1/2
Stolen Jools, The (William C. McGann, 1931) **
Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life (Fred Waller, 1935) ***
Terrier-Stricken (Chuck Jones, 1952) **
That's the Spirit (Roy Mack, 1933) **1/2
Three Cheers for the Girls (Jean Negulesco, 1943) ***
Tin Toy (John Lasseter, 1988) ***
2:20 (Jason Wingard, 2011) **
United States Navy Band, The (Jean Negulesco, 1943) *1/2
A vintage newsreel about the Hollywood Canteen. With no sound. *1/2
Whistle (Duncan Jones, 2002) *1/2

TV (41)

Bored to Death: Season 2 (2011) ***1/2
Charlie Brooker's 2011 Wipe (2010) ***
Community: Season 1 (2009-10) ****
Community: Season 2 (2010-11) ****
Downton Abbey: Series 2 (written by Julian Fellowes, 2011) **1/2
Downton Abbey Christmas Special 2011 (written by Julian Fellowes, 2011) **1/2
Edge of Darkness (1985) ****
Elgar: Portrait of a Composer (Ken Russell, 1962) ***
Evacuees, The (Alan Parker, 1975) ***1/2
Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000) ****
Hawking (2004) **1/2
Homeland: Season 1 (2011) ***1/2
Hour, The: Season 1 (2011) ***
Iceman Cometh, The (Sidney Lumet, 1960) ****
Jekyll (written by Steven Moffat, 2007) ***1/2
Johnny Cash! – The Man, His World, His Music (Robert Elfstrom, 1969) ***1/2
Life's Too Short: Season 1 (2011) **
Millennium (Niels Arden Oplev, 2009) ***1/2
Mill on the Floss, The (Graham Theakston, 1997) **
My So-Called Life (1994) ****
Our Friends in the North (Simon Cellan-Jones, 1996) ****
Parks and Recreation: Season 2 (2009-10) ****
Parks and Recreation: Season 3 (2011) ****
Party Down: Season 1 (Rob Thomas, 2009) ****
Party Down: Season 2 (Rob Thomas, 2010) ****
Paul Merton's Birth of Hollywood (Paul Merton, 2011) ***
TV round-up, including Sherlock, Spaced, Coupling, Press Gang (Series 3 to 5) and The Glittering Prizes.
Pushing Daisies: Seasons 1 and 2 (2007-9) ****
Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia (Paul McGuigan, 2012) ****
Sherlock: Series 1 (2010) ***1/2
Sherlock: Series 2 (2012) ****
Silent Partner, The (George Marshall, 1955) ***
30 Rock: Season 1 (2007-8) ***
30 Rock: Season 2 (2007-8) **1/2
Terriers (2010) **** Timmy's Christmas Surprise (Jackie Cockle, 2011) ***
Veronica Mars: Seasons 1-3 (created by Rob Thomas, 2004-7) ****, ****, ***1/2
Wonderfalls (created by Bryan Fuller and Todd Holland, 2004) ***1/2


Comedy: Richard Herring at Harrogate Theatre - March 1, 2010
Music: Suede at the Royal Albert Hall - March 24, 2010
Theatre review: The 39 Steps at York Theatre Royal - April 4, 2010
Theatre: Debbie Reynolds, Alive and Fabulous at Leeds Grand Theatre - April 24, 2010
Music: Bob Dylan at the Hop Farm Festival - July 3, 2010 (also includes Ray Davies, Mumford & Sons and Seasick Steve).
Theatre: Alan Bennett at the Royal Hall, Harrogate - July 25, 2010
Comedy: Josie Long at Harrogate Theatre - October 12, 2010
Comedy: Jeremy Hardy at Harrogate Theatre - October 19, 2010
Comedy: Ardal O'Hanlon at Harrogate Theatre - October 22, 2010
Music: Kate Rusby at the Royal Hall, Harrogate - December 10, 2010
Comedy: Richard Herring at Harrogate Theatre - March 7, 2011
Theatre: Tom Courtenay in Pretending to Be Me at Harrogate Theatre - Sunday, March 20, 2011
Music: Thea Gilmore at Fibbers, York - April 3, 2011
Music: Suede performing the classic album Suede at Brixton Academy - May 19, 2011
Music: Suede performing the classic album Dog Man Star at Brixton Academy - May 20, 2011
Music: Emmylou Harris at The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester - May 30, 2011
Music: Ruth Notman at The Old Ship Inn, Lowdham - September 14, 2011
Comedy: Josie Long at Harrogate Theatre - January 27, 2012
Music: Tom Petty at the Royal Albert Hall - June 18, 2012
Music: The Stone Roses at Heaton Park, Manchester - June 29, 2012


Ava Gardner: Love Is Nothing by Lee Server ***