Monday, July 11, 2016

Watching Old Movies

The programming schedule on TCM of late, combined with however my schedule happened to work out, has produced a convergence that has resulted in me watching a spate of old movies in recent weeks.  Thought I'd share some thoughts with you in alphabetical order.....

From 1976, "All The President's Men" directed by Alan J. Pakula and starring Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason  Robards Jr. and a cast of terrific character actors such as Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, John McMartin, Jane Alexander and Hal Holbrook, among others.  It is the story of the reporters from the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, diligently working to piece together the story that has become known simply as "Watergate" in our history.  It is tense and exciting, made more so because the story is a true one.  It has also been called the greatest movie about newspapers and newspaper reporting ever made.

Can't even count how many times I have seen this movie, and it never gets old.

From 1974, "The Conversation" stars Gene Hackman as a private "security consultant" who is really a wiretapper who records conversations for his clients.  He is the best in the business, but the movie becomes a character study of a guy who is paranoid almost beyond belief, either his profession made him that way, or he turned to his profession because he was that way.  Hackman is terrific in the role, as he is in most everything, and the movie also features Robert Duval (he was unfilled in the credits), Cindy Williams, John Cazale (Fredo from The Godfather movies), and  very young Harrison Ford.  In the movie, Hackman violates his number one rule and becomes involved in the case on which he is currently working with disastrous results.

This movie was nominated for a bunch of Academy Awards, and some critics say it is one of the best movies of the 1970's.  I don't know about that, but it was pretty good.  It is also known as the movie that writer and director Francis Ford Coppola squeezed into his work schedule between a couple of movies that we like to call "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II".

Gene Hackman again in the 1971 Oscar winner for Best Picture, Actor (Hackman), and Director (William Friedkin).  Terrific story about two police detectives who work to track down a massive drug shipment into the United States from France (the "French connection"). Gritty and action packed, this movie might also feature the single greatest car chase scene in any movie ever.  Seeing it again, I had forgotten the somewhat ambiguous ending of this one, but maybe that is what contributed to how good this movie is.  "The French Connection" holds up perfectly forty-five years after its original release.  If you've never seen it, you should.  Well worthy of all those Oscars.

Way back in the summer of 1962, my mother must have been having one of those days where she looked at my Dad and said, "get those two kids out of the house today because I need a break", and so it was that on a Sunday afternoon, my Dad took my sister and me to the Stanley Theater downtown, and we saw "The Music Man".  I loved the movie that day, and I have seen it innumerable times since (not to mention at least three stage productions of the show), and most recently this past Monday night, the 4th of July, and is there a better movie to watch on that holiday?  I think not.

As I was watching this one on Monday, I started making comments about it on Facebook, and I soon found that about a half dozen or so other friends were watching it with me.  How fun that was.

We all know that the songs and the music and the choreography are so great, but I am always struck by a couple of really poignant lines...."You pile up enough tomorrows, Madame Librarian, and pretty soon you'll find that all you've collected is a bunch of empty yesterdays."....."For the first time in my life, I've seem to have got my foot caught in the door."...."I always think there's a band, kid."

As I said on Facebook the other night, I just love "The Music Man".

Until just this afternoon, I had never seen this classic John Ford - John Wayne movie from 1956, a movie that many critics say is the best of the fourteen films that Ford and Wayne made together, and that some say is the greatest Western ever made.

Wayne is very good as the obsessed confederate veteran who spends five years searching for his young niece (Natalie Wood) who was kidnapped by Comanche warriors after they had killed her family.  Interestingly enough, Wayne is not a particularly nice guy in this one.  He served in the Confederacy so one might consider him a traitor, there are hints that he may be a wanted criminal, and his hatred of the Indians is so palpable that he is certainly an avowed racist (a word probably not used much in 1956 when the movie was made).   His intent is such that when and if he does find his niece, he wants to kill her because she has been "used" by the Comanches. (Spoiler Alert: He doesn't.)  In his later years, Wayne often became a caricature of himself, but he was a good actor, and I have found that he was usually at his best when he played not so nice guys ("Red River", "The Shootist", to name two) as he did in "The Searchers".

This movie was also beautiful to look at with much of it being filmed in Monument Valley.  Great John Ford touches throughout.  And the closing shot of a solitary Wayne framed in the doorway is an undeniable classic:

And finally, from 1959, Billy Wilder's classic, "Some Like It Hot", arguably the greatest movie comedy ever made.  The story:  In 1929, musicians Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon happen to find themselves in a Chicago parking garage and witness the St. Valentine's Massacre.  To escape the hoods who want to rub out these witnesses, they disguise themselves as women and go on the lam as members of an All Girl Orchestra, an orchestra that features a ukelele player and vocalist played by Marilyn Monroe. As they say, hijinks ensue, as the band heads to Florida by train and play an engagement in a swanky beach resort.  Hard to say who is better in this one, Lemon or Curtis. Lemon was nominated for an Oscar, a fact that Curtis seemed to resent at the time.  Monroe was Monroe: beautiful, sexy, and totally charming.  Some have said that these three, along with Joe E. Brown and director Wilder did the best work of their careers in "Some Like It Hot".

As Marilyn (Sproule, not Monroe) said when we watched this the other day "This movie is never not funny".  A perfect description of this movie, even if "Nobody's perfect."

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