2016 BLIND SPOT series film picks

Blindspot2016Ok, so I dropped the ball last year on this Blindspot series as I wanted to spend more time on my script. I’ve also blogged a lot less for the same reason and will continue doing so until my script is done. But given how much I’ve enjoyed discovering *old classics* or acclaimed films I’ve missed over the years, I thought I’d do it again this year. But instead of doing 12 films, I opt to do just 10 films in 2016.

As I did last year, I try to cover a variety of genres here, and include at least one that I don’t normally go for. In this case, I include… I’m also putting in one of the films I missed in 2015 (The Big Sleep). I included mostly classic films here but there are a couple that fulfilled two criteria I wanted to be represented on my list: a foreign film that’s preferably directed by a woman. Well, After the Wedding is an Oscar-nominated Danish film by Susanne Bier and Andrea Arnold‘s Fish Tank fit perfectly. I also have to have at least one period drama on here, and why not one directed by a woman (Sofia Copolla’s Marie Antoinette) as I’ve pledged to participate Women in Film‘s #52FilmsByWomen movement. Do join if you haven’t already!

Anyhoo, here’s my 10 picks in alphabetical order:

  1. 8 1/2 (1963)
  2. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
  3. After the Wedding (2006)
  4. American Graffiti (1973)
  5. Fish Tank (2009)
  6. Funny Face (1957)
  7. Laura (1944)
  8. Marie Antoinette (2006)
  9. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
  10. The Big Sleep (1946)


Per usual, I will just pick at random which film I want to see in a given month and I shall try to publish it in the first week of every month.


The Blind Spot series was originally spearheaded by Ryan at The Matinee, and I was also inspired by Dan’s list at Public Transportation Snob.


Well, have you seen any of these films? Which one(s) are your favorite?

June 2014 Blind Spot Film: REBECCA (1940)

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As with a lot of the BlindSpot viewings this year, there are a lot of firsts in regards to REBECCA. No, it’s not the first Hitchcock film I saw, but it’s the first Laurence Olivier AND Joan Fontaine film I ever saw. I didn’t know David O. Selznick produced this, which was interesting given that I first saw Fontaine’s sister Olivia deHavilland in Selznick’s epic drama Gone With The Wind just the year before.

This was billed as a dramatic thriller, as well as a gothic romance, which immediately made me think of Jane Eyre. Interestingly enough, I noticed a few similarities with Charlotte Brontë’s classic tale (and not only because Fontaine did play Jane Eyre in 1943 with Orson Welles). Both of the protagonists in Jane Eyre and Rebecca are still haunted by his first wife. A wealthy man named Maxim de Winter (Olivier) meets a young, naive girl who accompanies her employer on a trip to Monte Carlo. Their first meeting wasn’t exactly a ‘meet cute,’ in fact he was rather rude towards her [yet another similarity to Jane Eyre‘s Rochester] but after a whirlwind romance, the two got married and he took her to his estate, Manderley.

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Now by the time the film starts, Rebecca is no longer in the picture, but no doubt her presence is felt throughout the film. Rebecca is definitely an overwhelming force despite the character never being shown on screen, not even in flashback. And that’s definitely what the filmmaker wanted Fontaine’s character to feel throughout the movie, that she’s overwhelmed by this unseen force who clearly still has a strange hold on everyone in Manderley.

The real suspense starts to build as soon as the couple get to Manderley. The big, expansive mansion looks and feel eerie, not unlike the ominous Thornfield Hall with a strange woman locked in the attic. The house is almost a character in itself, and it definitely plays a big role in the story. Manderley’s domineering, creepy housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson) definitely gives me the hibijibis. I really feel for Fontaine’s character and what she had to go through, not only did she have to endure her husband’s coldness, she also has to deal with a deranged, obsessive housekeeper who wanted to be rid of her. I kept wondering though why they couldn’t just fire Mrs. Danvers, I mean she is after all an employee at the estate. Right from the very moment she’s introduced in the movie, Mrs. Danvers is one of the most spine-chilling characters that really gets under my skin. I think the most terrifying scenes in the movie is when she gives Fontaine’s character a tour to Rebecca’s room, reminiscing on her former master and her obsession with her.

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Mrs. Danvers: [just as the second Mrs. de Winter reaches for the door] You wouldn’t think she’d been gone so long, would you? Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick light step, I couldn’t mistake it anywhere. It’s not only in this room, it’s in all the rooms in the house. I can almost hear it now.

Mrs. Danvers: Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?

The Second Mrs. de Winter: [sobbing] N-no, I don’t believe it.

Mrs. Danvers: Sometimes, I wonder if she doesn’t come back here to Manderley, to watch you and Mr. de Winter together. You look tired. Why don’t you stay here a while and rest, and listen to the sea? It’s so soothing. Listen to it.

[turning away towards the window as the second Mrs. de Winter slips out the door]
Mrs. Danvers: Listen. Listen to the sea.

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You could say Judith was quite the scene-stealer in this film as you simply can’t shake her for some time after you’ve seen this film. She’s THAT creepy. The rest of the cast is equally excellent in their Oscar-nominated performances. I’m quite impressed by the luminous Joan Fontaine who’s the heart of the film whomI sympathize with right away. She went from being this frail, nervous and self-conscious young bride in the beginning, to a woman who’s able to hold her own by the end. Her character definitely *grew up* as the film progressed and her transformation is very believable. Sir Olivier is perfectly suited as the wealthy tortured soul type, hardened and enigmatic. The British thespian has played another Bronte’s dark hero, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights just the year before, sounds like the type of roles he could play in his sleep. There’s not much chemistry between him and Fontaine but given the plot of the story it sort of make sense. Based on the documentary included in the disc, apparently Olivier was keen on having his then-girlfriend Vivien Leigh to play Fontaine’s role, but I personally don’t think Leigh would suit the role as well.  George Sanders plays this weasel character who’s trying to frame Maxim, I’ve seen him play a similar character in All About Eve not too long ago. His character seems too lively to be really sinister or threatening however, I think out of all the characters, I feel that his performance is the least convincing to me.

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As to be expected from the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock truly delivered the goods with this one. This is his second feature adaptation from Daphne Du Maurier novel and clearly the material suits his style. The gothic story lends itself to the eerie, bone-chilling atmosphere, and Hitchcock is the master at building up the suspense and that dreaded sense of impending doom. Every frame, sound, ambiance is carefully crafted, coupled with Franz Waxman‘s ominous score for a total immersive experience. I didn’t see the twist coming which is always nice when that happens. Yet Rebecca isn’t reliant on that twist for you to truly appreciate the film because it’s more than just a gimmick. The story is rich, with a deep, layered symbolism that stays with you long after the credits. It’s also a beautifully-shot film with the lush setting, gorgeous costumes, and evocative lighting that brings out its supernatural quality.

This is definitely one of those films that lives up to the hype. The heightened suspense and tension is what I expect from Hitchcock — he brought Du Marier’s story alive and kept me engrossed from start to finish. Just like the literary work it’s based on, this film has that timeless quality that would stand the test of time. I am surprised that this is the only Hitchcock film that ever won Best Picture Oscar. I definitely think it’s Oscar-worthy but I haven’t seen his later works such as Vertigo and Rear Window that’s far more popular than this one. I definitely have a lot of Hitchcock to catch up on and I’m looking forward to it!

4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the fifth entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .


What do you think of  REBECCA? I’d love to hear what you think!

May 2014 Blind Spot Film: The Apartment (1960)

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The Apartment was supposed to be my April Blindspot movie, but I mistakenly thought I had Some Like It Hot on my list instead. Surely it wasn’t at all a waste that I got to watch another Billy Wilder movie, but I have to admit I was not as enamored with that one as most do. The Apartment however, lives up to all the praises and then some. It’s definitely my favorite out of the three Wilder movies I’ve seen so far (Sabrina 1954 was the first one).

I’ve always wondered why the movie was called The Apartment, but within a few minutes I found out why. I like the opening sequence with Jack Lemmon’s narration. He played the protagonist, C.C. Baxter, who works as an insurance agent for Consolidated Life, one of the top five companies in the country with 31,259 employees. He works on the 19th floor in this giant office with rows upon rows of desks. By the end of the day, Baxter is the only one left. No, not because he’s a workaholic or anything, but he can’t come home to his apartment whenever he likes because he lets the executives of the company use his apartment for trysts. I seriously don’t know how he gets ANY work done as every day he’s so busy booking up his executives’ dates at his apartment and make sure they dates don’t get mixed up. At first I feel bad for him, especially when he gets a call in the middle of the night and have to clear out for one of the execs’ booty call. But you know what, Baxter brought this upon himself, he’s doing this favors to the execs to move up quickly to the top.

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Though it’s obviously a major inconvenience for Baxter, he tolerates this whole charade because of his ambition. That is until he met this cute elevator girl Fran Kubelik. Shirley MacClaine is so cute here with her pixie haircut, this is the first time I saw her in her earlier films as the first movie I saw her in was Guarding Tess (1994) with Nic Cage. This is also the first time I saw Fred McMurray. He’s quite memorable here as the top exec who makes life complicated for Baxter. I’m not going to spoil it for you in case you have not seen the film, though the plot is not entirely unpredictable. What did surprise me was how dark the film got, especially in regards to MacClaine’s character. I think those who’ve seen this know what I’m talking about. Even the whole cheating execs thing is not exactly a wholesome subject matter. But of course, given this is set in the 60s, it’s still a very demure film nary of any risque scene.

At times the storyline reminds me a bit of Roman Holiday in that the protagonist was initially an ambitious go-getter, someone ruthless enough to get ahead in their career. But when they fall in love, their perspective completely changes. I love how Baxter becomes the sweetest, most caring man even after he realizes his chances to be with the girl he loves is slim to none. Jack Lemmon is absolutely endearing in the way he dotes on Fran, taking care of her when she needs it most.

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This film won five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction and Best Film Editing. Both Lemmon and MacClaine were nominated in the acting categories, too. I’d have been ok if Lemmon had won Best Actor but then again I don’t know who else was nominated that year. Baxter is the heart and soul of this film, and the transformation of his character as the film progresses is very believable.

I love so many things about this movie. The sharp script by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, lovely music by Adolph Deutsch, and the perfect balance of drama and comedy. I love the hilarious way Baxter made spaghetti, straining the pasta through the grid of a tennis racket. It’s quite an iconic scene that’s cute and heartwarming.

Fran Kubelik: What’s a tennis racket doing in the kitchen?
C.C. Baxter: Tennis racket? Oh, I remember, I was cooking myself an Italian dinner.
[Fran looks confused]
C.C. Baxter: I use it to strain the spaghetti.

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Of course the performances are great all around, I quite like the chemistry between Lemmon and MacClaine, and it’s the kind of romance that’s rarely seen today as their love develops with barely any physical contact! There’s not even a single kissing scene between the two actors, but you definitely felt the connection between the them.

The ending is one of those that made me go up and cheer… especially when Baxter finally stands up for himself and decides to become a *human being* (or a mensch as his doctor neighbor told him to be it just the night before). It turns out having the career he’s always wanted is not all that’s cracked up to be, meanwhile Fran too has an epiphany moment of her own. The finale is definitely one of the most memorable New Year’s Eve moments in movies. I feel that this ending is pretty typical for rom-coms, complete with the girl running to catch the guy she *finally* realizes to be the love of her life + a bit of panic happening that she could be too late. Yet, it doesn’t feel clichéd or hackneyed here, and that’s the beauty of this movie.

I’m glad I finally caught The Apartment, it’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing again. Now that I’ve seen two Billy Wilder movies, I definitely see why people love his work so much. I look forward to catching up on more of his films in the future, especially Sunset Blvd. that’s been recommended to me ages ago.

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4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the fourth entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

As I missed April’s BlindSpot, there’ll be a Double Entry next month.


What do you think of  The Apartment? I’d love to hear what you think!

February 2014 Blind Spot: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

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I didn’t realize that I’m doing another Frank Capra film back to back in the BlindSpot series! Well, I had initially wanted to do a James Stewart marathon after the Gregory Peck one, but I never got around to it. Well, I finally got to see it on President’s Day last weekend, what a fitting time it was and this film certainly lived up to its classic icon status. According to IMDb trivia, it’s ranked #5 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time (2006), and #26 Greatest Movie of All Time (2007) also by AFI.

It’s always wonderful to see when ‘the actor and the role meets,’ that is when a role seems to be tailor-made for an actor that it’s as he disappears into that character. I felt that was the case with Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and here, Stewart seemed to have become Jefferson Smith despite not being the first choice for the role. The role was for Gary Cooper who’s supposed to reprise a similar one he did in Mr Deeds Goes To Town (also by Capra), but he was unavailable. Having seen this film, I can’t picture anybody else but Stewart in the role.

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What’s interesting about this film is that even though the subject matter is about American politics, it doesn’t concern a specific party, we’re never told if Jefferson Smith was a Republican or Democrat. The state that he and Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) come from was never mentioned, either. It’s a classic David vs Goliath story as Smith was a nobody in the grand political scheme when a governor of the unnamed western state picked him to replace a deceased senator. He’s picked because of his wholesome Boy Scout (or Boy Rangers in the film) image, the corrupt political boss Jim Taylor and his minions think Smith’s lack of experience think he’d be easy to manipulate. Of course things don’t go exactly to their plan.

The word ‘filibuster’ seems to have become a dirty word in Capitol Hill. Frankly I don’t know much about the intricate and twisted world of politics, so it was fascinating to see Smith getting lectured from his own secretary Clarissa Saunders on how to get a bill passed. It’s certainly one of my fave scenes from the entire film:


This is the first time I saw Jean Arthur in anything and her portrayal of Saunders is brilliant. Nice to see a smart and sassy female character, not unlike another heroine in another famous 1939 film, which took the Best Picture that year, Gone With The Wind. Now, Saunders is nowhere near as manipulative as Scarlett O’Hara of course, but she’s also beautiful and knows her way around a man’s world.

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The whole conflict revolves around building of a dam by the Willett Creek, which is the same area of land where Smith wants to build his national boys camp. Naturally Smith is no match for the Taylor Machine in terms of money and clout, and the political Goliath is determined to crush David by any means possible. Having been *crucified* (that’s the exact word used by Rains’ character) by the Taylor Machine, Smith was ready to give it all up when Saunders persuaded him not to. That propels him to launch a filibuster to clear his name just before he’s kicked out of the Senate.

I was totally engrossed in the story from start to finish, and the third act is certainly the most rousing part. It’s certainly an inspiring story told with an unapologetic sense of virtue. A dissenting voice against this film is perhaps that it lacks subtlety. At times perhaps the audience, especially those on the cynical side might feel they’re being hit over the head with the morality lesson. But you know what, I happen to think it’s great to see a film that celebrates goodness and everything we should aspire to as a human being. I wrote in this post that people may find a hero that stands for truth, justice and the American way so darn boring. I beg to differ on that front. Smith is no superhero, he has no superpower of any kind, but he certainly has the power to inspire others to stand up for what’s right no matter what the cost. In essence, that’s what a true hero is all about.

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As I mentioned before, Stewart is perfectly cast as Smith and he certainly makes for a protagonist worth rooting for. The supporting cast is superb all around. Speaking of GWTW earlier, well, it’s fun to see Pa O’Hara here, aka Thomas Mitchell as journalist Diz Moore who’s in love with Saunders. My favorite is Claude Rains as the Senator whom Smith looks up to but ends up betraying him. His emotional struggle throughout the film is palpable and fascinating to behold and Rains has the charisma and gravitas to own a scene. I’ve only seen him in Casablanca before this, so I’m hoping to catch more of his films.

This film is full of rousing scenes as well as humorous moments. Smith’s obvious naivete is amusing and endearing but never ludicrous. There’s a hint of romance between Saunders and Smith, but yet it never took over the story which I thought was refreshing.

The ending doesn’t end with a neat little bow as our protagonist collapsed in exhaustion after talking non-stop for 24 hours, but he remains defiant and even hopeful to the end.

Jefferson Smith: I guess this is just another lost cause Mr. Paine. All you people don’t know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for and he fought for them once. For the only reason any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain simple rule. Love thy neighbor. And in this world today of great hatred a man who knows that rule has a great trust. You know that rule Mr. Paine and I loved you for it just as my father did. And you know that you fight harder for the lost causes than for any others. Yes you’d even die for them. Like a man we both knew Mr. Paine. You think I’m licked. You all think I’m licked. Well I’m not licked. And I’m gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause. Even if this room gets filled with lies like these. And the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody will listen to me.

The change of heart of the antagonist may seem abrupt here but I think Mr. Paine have been convicted that what he did was wrong long before he finally had the courage to confess it.

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Cap·ra·esque

[kap-ruh-esk] relating to or in the style of the movies of Frank Capra, focusing on courage and its positive effects and the triumph of the underdog.


Well, this is the third film from Frank Capra and I definitely see a definite pattern in his films. There’s a timeless quality about it, as his film seems to be relatable for any era because its message and its ideals are not confined by a specific time frame. No matter what year it is, greed, oppression and exploitation are never a good thing, and we’ll always root for someone who perseveres to rise above improbably odds.

I’m so glad I finally caught Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It’s definitely enjoyable and thought-provoking. A true classic that I certainly don’t mind watching again.

four and a half stars out of five
4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the first entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

Here’s my full Blindspot List.


What do you think of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? I’d love to hear what you think!

January 2014 Blind Spot: It Happened One Night (1934)

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Ok, it’s my first Blind Spot Film of the year. I don’t know why it took me so long to finally see this one, as it came highly recommended by so many people. The main draw for me here is to see Clark Gable in something other than Gone With the Wind as that’s the only film I’ve seen him in. It’s also the second Frank Capra film since It’s A Wonderful Life.

Now that I’ve seen the film, I noticed how similar the storyline is to Roman Holiday, but instead of a princess, the female protagonist is a spoiled heiress who’s running away from her father (Walter Connolly) who disapproves  her nuptial to a society aviator. Claudette Colbert has quite a spunk as Ellie Andrews, though I have to admit it took me a while to warm up to her as her character is such a brat. At one point her dad slaps her and she certainly had it coming. Ellie promptly jumps off her dad’s yacht and later catches a bus to New York City to return to her husband. And that’s where the ‘meet cute’ happens.

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Gable’s Peter Warne is an out-of-work newspaper reporter. He’s made quite an effort to secure the last seat on the bus, only to have it ‘stolen’ by Ellie. The bantering between these two are pretty amusing, though it’s obvious they’re attracted to one another. When Warne recognizes who she is, he offers her two choices, one of which is that he’d blow the whistle on her whereabouts to her father. Needless to say, Ellie is stuck with Peter until he can help her get to NYC. Seriously, there are worse things than being stuck with Clark Gable!

One of the main highlights is when Peter rents a small motel for the two of them. It’s quite risque for those days to show a man being shirtless, which apparently happens because Gable kept having trouble removing his undershirt whilst keeping the dialog going, so Capra decided to forgo it. Apparently the undergarment industry was largely affected by this when people stopped buying undershirt as it was deemed cool to not to wear one. That’s mind-boggling how much power Hollywood had back in the day.

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With a set of clothesline and a blanket, Peter builds the ‘walls of Jericho’ between the two beds, which was also Capra’s idea because Colbert refused to undress in front of the camera. The two also puts on quite a show in the morning when two detectives knocked on their door looking for Ellie. Pretending to be a bickering married couple, it was the perfect bonding experience as their adventure is just beginning. Though it’s a completely different role from Rhett Butler, Gable’s certainly got the swagger and charm intact.

Interesting how this film’s success undoubtedly brings about the rom-com trend. We’ve become tired of that genre these days, as most of them are neither romantic nor comedic. I think You’ve Got Mail is a wonderful contemporary rom-com that adhere to a similar pattern, with the characters start out disliking each other. The key I think is in the chemistry of the two actors, and the wit in the dialog. So even if everything else about the film seems out of date, the story still holds up and the dialog still brings a smile to one’s face.

[after Ellie stops a car by showing her leg]
Ellie: Aren’t you going to give me a little credit?
Peter: What for?
Ellie: I proved once and for all that the limb is mightier than the thumb.
Peter: Why didn’t you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped forty cars.
Ellie: Well, ooo, I’ll remember that when we need forty cars.

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The story itself is pretty predictable. I knew at the end Ellie and Peter are going to be together, but I was still surprised by how they finally got reunited. Ellie’s father played a huge role in bringing them together, which is interesting in and of itself to see a parental figure having such a big part in the love story. In the finale, ‘walls of Jericho’ shows up again but only from the outside of the motel where presumably Ellie and Peter are now married. The sound of trumpet is heard as the walls is coming down. There are plenty of innuendos throughout, some are less subtle than others, but in this day and age where borderline pornographic content becomes ‘normal’ at the movies, it’s nice to see something THIS wholesome for a change.

ItHappenedOneNight_GableColbertWhat strikes me about this movie is the lack of any kissing scene between the two leads. I’d think the Hayes Code allowed kissing scene at the time, as Colbert did kiss Jameson Thomas who played her husband King Westley, so it made me wonder if it’s because Gable and Colbert didn’t get along during filming. All of the promos like the image on the right that suggest any kind of kissing scenes between these two are so misleading, there’s an almost kiss when the were at a barn, but that’s about it. According to IMDb Trivia, seems that neither of them were fond of making the film and didn’t think much about it. So I guess its massive success (both artistically and financially) was as huge a surprise to them as to everyone else.

So did I love this movie? Yes I did, and I’m glad I finally watched it. At the same time, I’m not as enamored with it as I did with say, Roman Holiday and Casablanca. It’s interesting that both of those films didn’t quite have a happy ending, which actually makes it even more romantic. There is something so beguiling and heart-wrenching to see unrequited love played out on screen. Another thing for me is the character Ellie itself, which is not entirely sympathetic. I mean, her rich dad worships her and she pretty much gets everything she wants. Even Roman Holiday‘s Princess Ann is far less spoiled than Ellie. Yes, Colbert makes her character fun to watch, but she’s not exactly my favorite classic characters.

Overall though, this one deserves the ‘essential classic’ status. It’s the first screwball romantic comedy that no doubt becomes the template for ‘opposites attract’ types of storyline. Of course, very few have such staying power like this one.

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This is the first entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

Here’s my full Blindspot List.


What do you think of It Happened One Night? I’d love to hear what you think!

Sidney Pollack Blogathon: Castle Keep (1969)

This post is part of the Sydney Pollack Blogathon spearheaded by Ratnakar of Seetimaar – Diary of a Movie Lover Blog. Check out his blog for more posts on the acclaimed director.


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Greetings, all and sundry!

After a brief, enjoyable respite between guest posts. I’ve been asked by our hostess, Ruth to add my unique perspective to the collected works and Mythos of one of the more memorable directors of the last half of the 20th century. One of the great triad of distinctly American cinema that includes John Frankenheimer and William Friedkin. Who first displayed their skill in live television and with the aid of solid reputations, moved seamlessly into film.

A director who gave equal credence and importance to words, comedic and otherwise. As to costumes, sets, locations and action. And more importantly, reaction.

With that said. Allow me a few moments of your time to wax poetic and lyric about the director and one of his early efforts.

Sydney Pollack: Castle Keep (1969) – “Something Memorable out of Nothing”

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A film that was received with mixed reviews when first released. Also one the later dearth of WWII films shot in Yugoslavia. Kelly’s Heroes among them. Pollack’s film centers around the chaotic effect of The Battle of the Bulge had on American troops involved. And a ragtag, polyglot assembly of soldiers recovering from and staying ahead of its icy chilled and ill wind.

Led by a stoic and eye patched Burt Lancaster as Infantry Major Abraham Falconer. In charge of officers who run the gamut of by the book, art historian, Patrick O’Neal as Captain Lionel Beckman. To extremely flaky Lt. Billy Byron Bix. Offset by religious, wide eyed dreamer, Tony Bill’s Lt. Amberjack. And a mix of veteran NCOs From old time tough Sgt. DeVaca (Michael Conrad) to Peter Falk‘s survivor and perpetual baker, Sgt. Rossi and Scott Wilson’s laid back, good old boy, Corporal Clearboy riding herd over a clutch of enlisted men from across the Army’s spectrum of specialties. Chief among them, Private Alistair Piersall Benjamin (Al Freeman Jr.). An engineer and narrator of the tale.

Some had retreated from the initial German assault and regrouped under Falconer. Other are fresh from far off “Repple Depples” or Replacement Depots. With orders to find, occupy, defend and keep a secluded 10th century castle and village of Maldorais. Which sits on the cross point of several roads leading to Bastogne.

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Prime real estate for Allies and Germans alike. Though the Germans have tanks and infantry to help stake their claim. And the American G.I.s have whatever they carry or can get their hands on. The land is pristine, layered in snow. Forested and hilly before becoming mountainous miles away. Possessing a foggy, fairy tale look and feel. Untouched by the ravages of war as Falconer leads his ragtag brigade. While the castle itself is sturdy, shrouded in mist. With tall battlements, thick stone walls, a deep moat and ancient drawbridge. A huge courtyard, stables, well and accoutrements of a bygone age.

The interior of the castle is resplendent in every degree. Full of art treasures and antiquities. And an infertile Count of Maldorais (Jean-Pierre Aumont) who wants nothing more than a son from his wife, Therese, the Countess (voluptuous Astrid Heeren) to continue the family lineage. And for the Americans leave as soon (kind of) as possible.

Falconer sends his underlings to scout out possible defensive positions. And in the process discover the village’s brothel run by the Red Queen (Catarina Borrato) and her clowder of fetishy women. Sgt. Rossi finds a bakery run by an attractive widow and begins to fall in love with both. Lt. Bixby and Lt. Amberjack begin to gather a following of pacifists. Corporal Clearboy discovers the wonders of Greman Volkswagen engineering, And the Major comes under the attentions of the Countess.

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In other words. Unit cohesion and integrity are going to Hell. While Captain Beckman wants to gather up as many art treasures a possible and beat feet elsewhere as the German get ever closer. Sending out white caped and snow camouflaged patrols and an occasional spotter aircraft.

It is then that Major Falconer devises a strategy of hit and run. With the village being the battle field in winnowing down German troops and tanks, Fighting a strategic withdrawal with Castle Maladorais being its last stand. The troops aren’t thrilled to hear this, but know there’s no other choice.

The Red Queen’s girls are brought into the action as tanks roll down the village’s curved, narrow cobbled streets. The girls occupy various balconies in varying stages of undress. Smiling, waving and flaunting their wares to the Germans below. Before tossing flaming wicked cognac bottles of gasoline downward upon the would be occupiers and their armored machines…

I’ll leave the tale right here for Spoilers sake.

Now. What Makes This Movie Good?

Sydney Pollack at the reins of an often visually beautiful, sometimes dream like and cohesive piece of film. Clocking in at 105 minutes with very few to waste. Especially when stacked against other bigger named and budgeted, (Catch-22 leaps to mind!) yet smaller, more garbled messaged films of that time.

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Working within a very rarified and refined winter world created by William Westlake in his novel of the same name. And tweaked just a bit here and there with a screenplay by Daniel Taradash and David Rayfiel. Mr. Pollack and company tread a fine line between one of the better late 1960s War Films while weaving an attractively seductive, yet surreal Anti-War Film. Mr. Pollack proves that he can stage, arrange and choreograph action sequences with the best of them. And his cast of stage, television and film stars from both sides of the ocean deliver.

What Makes This Film Great?

Mr. Pollack’s deft touch at allowing plenty of time and exposition to let the castle and village work its fairy tale magic on his cast through off beat and kind of quirky dialogue that would later become one of his trademarks. There hasn’t been a G.I. born who hasn’t thought of the possibility of “sitting out’ a war”. And the enclosed world of Maladorais offers those opportunities and distractions in abundance. Whether it is sex, a simple task like baking, which can easily become a life’s work. Or tinkering with the wonders of a first production VW. Each character is slowly seduced while Major Falconer watches from a safe distance with his diversions. Until it’s time to put childish things aside and get serious when the need arises.

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Cinematography from Henri Decae is more than one could ask for. Sharp and defined inside Castle Maladorais. Then offering extremely wide span and often misted exterior shots in the village and surrounding woods. Tailor made for Major Falconer sit astride a white stallion which becomes his personal form of conveyance.

Original music by Michel Legrand shows early signs of greatness. As it buttresses the visual and enhances emotion from lighthearted to treacherous. Art Direction by Jacque Douy and Mort Rabinowitz is lush and plush in the extreme inside the castle. And spartan and rustic inside and around the village. While Malcolm Cooke’s masterful editing saves momets and increases intensity when the Germans finally arrive.


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Thoughts on this film and/or Sidney Pollack? Let it be known in the comments.

Classic Double Feature: Shadow of a Doubt (1943) & Compulsion (1959)

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Greetings, all and sundry!

Allow me a few moments of your time in indulge the nostalgia of my youth. And broach a topic very close to my some may say, misspent early years.

The Classic Double Feature.

Usually reserved for Saturday matinees in the more austere theaters of the day. More often than not, theme or actor based. And superior quality. Genres of films selected was seasonal. With westerns and action popular in the summer. While offerings in Film Noir, horror, mystery and science fiction slated for fall through spring.

There is a method to the madness in the films I’ve selected. Both are films worthy of note and curiosities to our hostess, Ruth. Who desires to learn more of the works of master craftsman, Alfred Hitchcock and perpetual actor, Dean Stockwell. While the choice of which film leads is one which has plagued theater managers since the invention of celluloid. To that end. Allow me to introduce an early work from the British master. With equal parts drama and suspense layered over idyllic, quaint, rural life in a small west coast town.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

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A film that begins in sunny, always fair weather Santa Rosa, California. Home to many families who keep the banks, shops and stores busy. One family in particular, the Newtons; father, Joseph (Henry Travers). Mother, Emma (Patricia Coolidge). Youngest son, Roger (Charles Bates). Middle daughter, Ann (Edna Mae Wonacott). And eldest, approaching awkward teen daughter, Charlotte (Teresa Wright) or “Charlie”. Go through their daily routine of work, school, keeping house, while Charlie eloquently wishes that something, anything would happen.

That occurs when a telegram arrives announcing that Mother’s younger brother, Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotten). All calm, placid charm and deeply buried malevolence. Will be arriving on the Thursday evening train. Uncle Charles arrives. Dinner is had. Gifts are given and the first inklings of psychological thriller starts making itself known. Where most of the family see Charles as a welcome guest. Young Charlie sees her uncle as something more. Someone worldly and romantic  A man of mystery who says little about and is trying to stay ahead of his past. For good reason.

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Life continues near serenely. Until two detectives drop by to talk to the family. One detective, Jack Graham, (Macdonald Carey) tells Charlie that her uncle may be one of two men known suspected of being “The Merry Widow Murderer”. Who court older women, marries them. Then collects their insurance money and any other expensive things after their untimely, often strange, questionable deaths.

Charlie doesn’t want to believe, at first. But Uncle Charles makes a few awkward, almost embarrassing mistakes that turn heads and focuses attention in public places. And Charlie, being female and just slightly less curious than a cat. Finds small clues and evidence that lends credence to Jack Graham’s cautionary words. Topped off when Uncle Charles, perhaps a bit drunk and full of himself goes on tear about the rich in general, Rich widows in particular. And his contempt for them.

The cat is let out of the bag later, when Charles confronts his niece. Accusations are tossed around and Charles admits that he is the man the police are after. And then begs Charlie for her help. She concedes, but only on the condition that Uncle Charles
leave as soon as possible. Ironically, Uncle Charles is cut a break and some breathing room to pursue his latest mark. When the other suspect is killed in a running gunfight in Portland, Maine.

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Young Charlie becomes a loose end that needs attention. In the form of a few odd “accidents” involving stair cases and the faulty lock on a garage door. Keeping young Charlie inside while the sheltered car is left with its engine running. The laws of probability are catching up to Uncle Charles. Who announces that he is leaving by train to San Francisco. In the company of a young widow. Uncle Charles schemes to have a final showdown with young Charlie between cars. As the train starts to move and begin its journey.

I’ll leave it right here for Spoilers sakes….

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Alfred Hitchcock just getting familiar with the idea of playing with new, near perfect settings. Then playfully tweaking and twisting the American small town ideas, dreams and families. By infusing an often charming dose of “Something wicked this way comes!” in the shape of Charles Oakley. A cypher upon which any story can be painted. Until he becomes too comfortable. And projects his disdain for others upon his brother in law, Joseph. Hinting that Joseph could not possibly be averse to embezzling funds from the bank where he works. Inside the bank and within earshot of others!

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Just one of many soliloquies. Delivered with the same wide eyed, calm innocence Mr. Cotten tapped into earlier as best friend and conscience, Jedidiah Leland, in “Citizen Kane”. Only this time it works to his character’s benefit and is a little creepy to take in. Verbal wedged planted between friends that misdirect and distract and create slack for Uncle Charlie to play with.

While Teresa Wright is the personification of budding teenage womanhood. Too smart by half. Driven by emotions that run deep and wild beneath the surface. Who lets her words pull her into the intrigue. While not knowing what is on the other end. Her
younger siblings, Roger and Ann form a sort of Greek Chorus when the family is gathered together. Though Ann is also far too smart for her young age. Young Charlie’s mother and father are content to get by and preserve the American Dream. Even as Emma starts to see her beloved younger brother as someone she doesn’t really know.

What Makes This Film Great?

The town of Santa Rosa, California. That is just big enough and prosperous enough to illustrate small town America. With its tree-lined streets. large houses, well cared for lawns. Slightly out of era cars and tracks and smiling traffic cops. Which would be used again in “Pollyanna” and “Some Came Running”.

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Here. it represents the perfect summer weather Petri Dish to reveal cracks in its characters and secrets revealed with the addition of Mr. Cotten’s often too arrogant Charles Oakley. Given more emphasis through Thornton Wilder’s written words and Joseph A. Valentine’s often shadowy indoor and tight, razor sharp B&W outdoor cinematography. Aided by Dimitri Tiomkin‘s suspenseful score and music direction by Charles Previn. Set and art direction by Russell Gausman and John B. Goodman. Plus gowns and ensembles that are neither too frumpy or too elegant by Vera West and Adrian add to both story telling and an almost time capsule feel and effect.

Then there is Hitchcock. Gently tugging at the edges. Keeping the canvas of the tale and town taut. While slyly nicking there and slicing there. Letting nature do its thing and follow the path of least resistance. As the myth of rural solitude and serenity bares its all too human weaknesses. Perhaps, not a date film. But certainly one to indulge in to see the first confident steps of a sly, masterful director hinting at greater things to come!

Notes: Nominated and accepted into the National Film Registry in 1991.
Available for viewing on You Tube


Compulsion (1959)

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As is traditional with film distribution. The second film of a Double Bill or Feature should be of lesser stature and lower budget. Hence the phrase “B-Movie”. And this offering from 20th Century has that writ large. Though wisely and frugally spent in telling the tale of the infamous Loeb & Leopold “Perfect Crime’ kidnap and murder case of 1924. With the help of Meyer Levin, who had written the best selling novel of the same name the film is based on. And aided by Richard Murphy‘s faithful screenplay.

Centered around two Chicago law students with off the scale IQs and a completely less than healthy reverence for the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and his “Man and Superman” hypothesis. The Alpha of the pair is Arthur Strauss. Played with snide, very spoiled, well connected arrogance by Bradford Dillman. Who doesn’t have any friends. And not much use for people in general as he constantly looks for ways to show his elite superiority to others. Their perceived inferiority and uselessness of their laws that are beneath his contempt.

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Artie’s partner in crime is Judd Steiner. Masterfully under and occasionally overplayed by a young Dean Stockwell. A self-imposed outcast who enjoys Ornithology, Taxidermy and deep down inside wants badly to be part of something. Oddly gravitating towards Dillman’s Strauss with near gleeful, sometimes clumsy subservient abandon.

Their first “perfect crime” which begins the sharply rendered film sets the stage for future events. With the breaking into a campus Fraternity house and taking sixty seven dollars, odd jewelry and a second hand manual Underwood typewriter with a
broken letter key. Fleeing in Judd’s Stutz Bearcat convertible, Judd starts hitting his flask while Artie drives off and nearly sideswipes a drunken pedestrian on a lonely stretch of road. Artie chides Judd for drinking and continues to needle Judd. Very
much like a married couple with an abusive husband. Until Judd nearly breaks down into tears. Swearing that he would do any thing to make things right. Artie smiles and tells Judd to turn around, drive and hit the drunk. Artie tries, but swerves at the last
second. Giving Artie an ever bigger, subtle psychological weapon with which to bludgeon Judd. As the two continue into the night.

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Comes the morning and Judd is in class arguing Nietzsche with his law professor as another player enters the fray, Sid Brooks. (Young, fresh faced and freckled, Martin Milner) A middle class student who pays his freight as a reporter on the Bulldog (late) edition of the local Chicago paper. Who stumbles across Artie and Judd as they set up an alibi with a group of other students and girlfriends to cover the next step in their “cold, dispassionate experiment”. The alibi is a get together at a speak easy that Artie found earlier. The time, nine o’clock.

Sid begs off, due to his job. And several unique and tragic events fall into place between that afternoon and night. Sid clocks in and finds that’s there is a drowned boy in the city morgue. And that a ransom note has arrives at the Kessler home. Demanding ten thousand dollars in old fifty and twenty dollar bills. Sid’s boss, Tom Daley (Edward Binns) sends Sid to the morgue. Where the child, later identified as Paul Kessler had been beaten and mutilated before being stuffed in a drainage culvert. Sid also finds a pair of round lenses reading glasses with the body. The glasses fit neither Sid or the boy. So Sid calls his boss and the wheels start coming off the “dispassionate experiment”.

The body is identified by the boy’s father. Sid’s boss, Mr. Daley shows up at the morgue and is brought up to speed by Sid. The glasses are put in safe keeping before being turned over to the police. All the makings of a wonderful night of celebration for Sid. Even if his girlfriend, Ruth Evan (Diane Varsi) is in Judd’s company. Sid mentions the glasses and Judd’s hand immediately goes to his suit coat’s empty breast pocket. Artie asks for more details and nearly explodes when Sid mentions the ransom note’s broken, offset letter.

Made even worse as Artie discovers that Judd still has the typewriter! After three days of trying to misdirect the Chicago cops assigned to the case. Which causes a cascade of accusations and weak counter arguments from Judd. Another experiment is agreed upon to prove Judd’s dispassion for others. And Sid in particular. Artie would get rid of the typewriter and clean up Judd’s mess. If Judd sets up a date with Ruth and sexually assaults her at a secluded aviary. Artie holds up his end of the bargain, but Judd doesn’t know what to do with Ruth. Or how. And falls miserably.

The local District Attorney, Harold Horn (E.G. Marshall in fine form!) under pressure from above tells the local cops to bring Judd in for some questioning the next afternoon. And the real came of Cat & Mouse begins. With many questions as to Judd’s whereabouts on April 17th, the day of young Kessler’s disappearance, kidnap and murder. Judd starts out arrogantly and obliquely. Believing he has the upper hand until Horn brings out the reading glasses. A style of which over four thousand were sold in Chicago alone. But only a few with a new type of hinge. And one of those was sold to Judd months ago.

Judd talks into the evening as Artie is brought in to corroborate Judd’s story. Artie is well prepared. A much better liar. And mentions a family dinner and a guest who is a Federal judge an hour hence. Yet, Horn is not impressed. Politely, sometimes slyly asking questions about a rented black sedan and more details about the two women he and Judd supposedly picked up the night in question. Artie counters well and Horn is about to let them go when Judd’s chauffeur shows up. With toiletries and a change of clothes for Judd. Offhandedly mentioning that Judd’s Stutz Bearcat never left the estate’s garage that day, April 17th. Since he has changed the car’s worn brake shoes.

Round Two arrives without preamble as Horn goes after Judd with a vengeance! Shredding Judd’s many innocuous points of interest (Hot dog stand, park, chance meetings) before going after Artie. Unaware that Judd’s father has called famed attorney, Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles doing his best Clarence Darrow) in the interim. Horn and his assistant, Mr. Padua (Gavin McLeod) go over each detail as Artie rebuts. Then decides to roll over on Judd in a classic “He said… He said” conundrum. Which only makes Judd’s loud and sometimes pitiful meltdown all the sweeter when informed of Artie’s cowardly treachery.

Judd and Artie are charged, arraigned and kept separate in County Lock Up as family retained psychologists and psychiatrists are called in. As Wilks prepares to go up against a city who wants to see his clients swinging beneath a gallows…

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Watching a fresh on again, off again young talent in Mr. Stockwell mix so well with solidly ensconced contemporaries, Dillman, Milner and Varsi. Being confident and comfortable enough in their own skins to portray two spoiled and coddled, seriously sick puppies (Regarding Dillman and Stockwell) who would be right at home commanding a company of Hitler Youth in 1939 Germany. Both are near childishly juvenile in their assured arrogance that they are above the law and are righteous in their beliefs. Until they realize that the law does not give Brownie Points for genius.

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While Martin Milner stoically, reliably delivers the goods as Sid Brooks. With all the makings of a great reporter and newshound. Whose world is upended when someone he admires and envies a bit in Artie and his “odd duck” friend, Judd are revealed for
what they are. Offset by his girlfriend, Ruth’s perhaps tainted innocence. Ms. Varsi’s take on Ruth is odd to behold. In her moments with Judd, Sid. And later on the witness stand. Held far too tightly by her emotional naivete. In a very pivotal role for a
veteran of  “Peyton Place” and  “Ten North Frederick”.

High marks over all for director Richard Fleischer and his nearly standardized method of scenes averaging 11 to 14 seconds. Long enough to introduce a character, record an argument, move the plot along by planting a seed. Then watching it grow and expand to fruition later in the film.

What Makes This Film Great?

With just over an hour’s worth of build up through Judd’s sloppy performances in these “experiment”. Arguments and kind of creepy cat fights with his “superior”, Artie. The first glimmers of the paired serial killers of today (The Green River Killer(s), Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, Aileen Wuormos, etc) start making themselves known. With one Alpha (Artie) controlling the discussion and later situations. And a subservient (Judd) doing his best to please and be part of something bigger. A dynamic writ large while less than subtly hinting at a homosexual relationship. Heightened by Lionel Newman‘s horn heavy soundtrack.

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The film’s remaining thirty plus minutes belong to Orson Welles and his soft spoken, mumbled take on Clarence Darrow. His size and near Waltz gait command every shot as he fights small skirmishes with D.A Horn. Resists or ignores intimidation and a random cross burning by the Klan. Never ceding an inch as the drab, oddly homogenous and uniform looking jury hold Artie and Judd’s fate in the balance. Thanks to Mark-Lee Kirk’s moody lighting and William C. Mellor’s superb B&W cinematography.

The usual loud chest thumping one would expect from a Lee J. Cobb is deftly, emotionally eschewed. For up close and personal words when needed to cajole the jury. Or whisper close, perhaps veiled threats are directed Horn’s way. Mr. Welles’ Wilk is perhaps the most un-Darrow like performance on film. But it works quite well in baring Darrow’s zeal in fighting the death penalty. Kudos for Mr. Welles’ bravery and for his offered and agreed upon, deft direction of the courtroom scenes.

Note: Available to view on You Tube.


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Thoughts on either one of these films? Let it be known in the comments.