Monthly Archives: February 2010

Rear Window

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Cornell Woolrich (story) & John Michael Hayes
Starring James Stewart
Grace Kelly
Thelma Ritter
Wendell Corey
Raymond Burr
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Robert Burks
Editing by George Tomasini
Distributed by Paramount Pictures/Universal Studios
Release date(s) August 1, 1954
Running time 112 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Rear Window is one of Hitchcock’s most acclaimed films which came from his most prolific period of the mid-1950s. It features two of Hitch’s favourite stars in Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. Stewart is L. B. ‘Jeff’ Jeffries who has a broken leg and spends his time viewing the world from his apartment window.

I think that everyone knows the plot of this film. Jeff sees what he thinks is a man murder his wife. Grace Kelly’s character Lisa investigates but then the suspected murderer returns home. It is a great film that goes from Jimmy trying to work out whether a crime has occurred or not, to the suspense when Grace Kelly is in the murderer’s apartment, to when the murderer realizes that Jimmy has discovered his secret at the climax of the film. My words don’t really do the film justice, all I can say is that if you haven’t seen Rear Window you really need to watch it. If you have seen it you need to watch it again!

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The General

Directed by Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton
Produced by Joseph Schenck & Buster Keaton
Written by William Pittenger (memoir)
Screenplay: Al Boasberg, Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton
Uncredited: Charles Henry Smith & Paul Girard Smith
Starring Buster Keaton & Marion Mack
Music by Carl Davis (1987)
Robert Israel (1995)
Joe Hisaishi (2004)
Cinematography Bert Haines & Devereaux Jennings
Editing by Buster Keaton & Sherman Kell (both uncredited)
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) February 5, 1927
Running time 75 minutes (times vary with different versions)
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles

The General is regarded as Buster Keaton’s greatest masterpiece. In my opinion it is indeed a fine piece of film making that seems to be more of an action or adventure film than a comedy.

The movie is based on true historical events from the American Civil War. It involves the theft of the train The General, by the Union Army and how the group who stole it, Anderson’s Raiders, were pursued by one determined Southerner named Johnnie Gray. The film is very exciting and some of the cinematography is brilliant, considering that the film was made in 1927 and there are a few amusing bits, but nothing really laugh out loud funny. The final chase between the Union train The Texas and The General from back to the south is particularly exciting, as is the blowing up of the Rock River Bridge.

The film is more of an action/adventure film than a comedy. Although it was a critical and box office failure on its release, it is now considered one of the greatest films ever made. I enjoyed the film but more as a historical artefact than as a piece of entertainment. It has moments of excitement and drama but it isn’t really a comedy film.

* 29 years later Disney made their film The Great Locomotive Chase which was also based on these events but from the point of view of the Unionist who stole The General rather than the South.


Poll Time – Universal Monsters


Grease

Directed by Randal Kleiser
Produced by Robert Stigwood & Allan Carr
Written by Musical: Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey
Screenplay:Bronte Woodard
Starring John Travolta
Olivia Newton-John
Stockard Channing
Jeff Conaway
Barry Pearl
Michael Tucci
Kelly Ward
Didi Conn
Jamie Donnelly
Dinah Manoff
Music by Jim Jacobs, Warren Casey & Michael Gibson
Cinematography Bill Butler
Editing by John F. Burnett
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date June 16, 1978
Running time 110 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Grease is one of those movies that you just can’t help but like. It has a great, 50s inspired soundtrack, some good young actors, led by the charismatic John Travolta, who look as though they are having the time of their lives on-screen and a good screenplay based on the hit stage musical. It is very hard to pinpoint just one factor that made Grease such an enjoyable film.

I have seen Grease probably a thousand times since I was a kid and it’s a film that I still love to watch. My sister used to be obsessed with Grease and more specifically with John Travolta, which is one of the reasons why I watched the film so often. My sister also liked to watch Grease 2 a lot as well but I never really liked that movie so much.


The Kid

Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Produced by Charlie Chaplin
Written by Charlie Chaplin
Starring Charlie Chaplin
Edna Purviance
Jackie Coogan
Henry Bergman
Lita Grey
Music by Charlie Chaplin (composed 1971)
Distributed by First National / Warner Home Video
Release date(s) January 21, 1921
Running time 68 min.
Country USA
Language Silent film
English intertitles

This is a very short film, at just over 50 minutes in length, but it is very sweet. The comedy in the film feels a little dated, like typical slapstick of the kind that everyone else at the time was doing, yet the thing that makes Chaplin unique here is not the pratfalls that he takes, but the empathy that he evokes from the viewer. This was the first film to ever combine humour with melodrama.

It is the melodrama that sets this film apart from its contemporaries. It is schmaltzy, that’s for sure, but these scenes are some of the most famous in film history, especially the moving scene after the orphanage takes the Kid from the Tramp and after a struggle the two are reunited. The look of relief and tears on the faces of Charlie and 5 year old Jackie Coogan as they hug each other in that scene is priceless and very moving.

Chaplin would go on to make many more brilliant films after The Kid that combined, namely The Gold Rush, City Light and Modern Times, but this is the film that started it all. Chaplin’s first great movie.

* Yes, The Kid, Jackie Coogan, did go on to play Uncle Fester in the Addams Family 40 years later.


Sailor Beware

Directed by Hal Walker
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Written by James Allardice
Martin Rackin
Starring Dean Martin
Jerry Lewis
Marion Marshall
Corinne Calvet
Leif Erickson
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
British Lion Films (UK)
Release date(s) February 9, 1952
Running time 108 minutes
Language English

Sailor Beware is the fifth film that Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis made together. It involves them as a couple of guys who bring their hijinks to the navy when they enlist. Jerry plays Melvin Jones, who is the goofy boy who is allergic to girls (and everything else), while Dean is Al, the suave playboy crooner. Yep, they play the same characters that they almost always did. By this time they had gotten their shtick down pat. Jerry is still quite funny with what he does.

This is not to say that the film is bad, it just seems all too familiar, with very little deviation from the formula that had made Martin & Lewis the most popular comedy team in the world. There are a few funny skits, especially the boxing scene where Jerry has to fight against someone. The songs are quite bland and unmemorable, although the cameo by Betty Hutton does make the film a bit more interesting in the two brief scenes that she’s in. The film is worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis even though there are better movies in their cannon of films.


Francis

Directed by Arthur Lubin
Produced by Robert Arthur
Written by David Stern (also novel)
Starring Donald O’Connor
Patricia Medina
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) 1950
Running time 91 minutes
Country United States
Language English

This is yet another of those films that I used to see all the time on a Sunday afternoon on Channel 10’s Golden Years of Hollywood, but never see anymore. There are seven Francis movies in all, but I think that the first one, the one that I watched today, is the one that was mostly shown on TV. The movie featured Donald O’Connor as a lieutenant in Burma during WWII whose life is saved by a smart-ass talking mule named Francis. Of course Francis was a precursor to the famous Mr. Ed who appeared on TV in the 60s.

I enjoyed the film a lot this time around and thought that Donald O’Connor was likeable as Peter Stirling. Francis naturally enough steals every scene that he (actually Francis was in real life a she) is in and the supporting cast is fine too. ZaSu Pitts, who the Olive Oyl’s cartoon persona was based on, appears here as does a young Tony (billed as Anthony) Curtis in a bit part.

Francis was popular enough to hve featured in another six films, as well as comic books and on a record album. As I mentioned earlier Mr. Ed was a show that was a lot like Francis and made by the same creative team.