Classic Movie Beginner’s Guide: John Huston

In our ongoing series of beginner’s guides for up-and-coming classic movie enthusiasts, we thought it would be well worth it to acknowledge one of Hollywood’s larger-than-life directors in John Huston.

Before starting out as a screenwriter, he galvanized his reputation collaborating with Humphrey Bogart and simultaneously helping shape the genre that would ultimately be labeled “film noir” by the French. His own career proved the film industry could be a family affair as he worked with both his father, Walter Huston and then his daughter, Angelica Huston, at the bookend of his own career.

Here are 4 of his most iconic films:

The Maltese Falcon (1941) - Images - IMDb

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Based on Dashiell Hammett’s indelible private eye, Huston’s Maltese Falcon is singular in its own right and it had to be. Not only was there the source material, but also an earlier film version. While Humphrey Bogart has none of the protagonist’s written characteristics, it’s immaterial. In a perceptive stroke, Huston pulled prose from the novel while creating taut, atmospheric, highly choreographed visuals to augment the performances. Consider Key Largo or The Asphalt Jungle for more noir thrills.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

The Treasure of The Sierra Madre (1948)

One could easily argue it was John Huston who helped usher in a groundbreaking generation of on-location shooting in a more mobile post-war Hollywood. Armed with two dynamic performances from Bogart and his chipper father Walter Huston, this epochal story of greed is an absorbing drama about the souring of humanity. It’s doesn’t need no stinkin’ badge to prove it either.

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The African Queen (1951)

Whether or not it feels like a departure for John Huston (Beat the Devil or Heaven Knowns, Mr. Allision could be considered the same), The African Queen is a stellar adventure piece bolstered by two of the most inimitable players: Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Carving through the jungles makes fast friends of the two great giants of Classic Hollywood, and Huston makes it a gripping time at the movies.

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Chinatown (1974)

Many will probably note John Huston did not direct Chinatown. For some of his contemporary work behind the camera, consider Fat City or The Man Who Would Be King. However, his beguiling performance as Noah Cross, in one of the preeminent neo-noirs, is too good a turn to pass up in this acknowledgment. Despite the palpable charm, he undermines it with a deliciously despicable underbelly — much like 1930s Los Angeles.

Worth Watching

Jezebel, High Sierra, Sergeant York, The Killers, The Red Badge of Courage, Moby Dick, The Misfits, Night of the Iguana, **The Other Side of The Wind, Wise Blood, Prizzi’s Honor, The Dead, etc.

 

Classic Movie Beginner’s Guide: Montgomery Clift

In our ongoing series, we continue shining a light on classic actors we think more people should get to know. This week our focus is none other than Montgomery Clift!

Monty Clift was one of the unsung champions of a new brand of acting that bridged the gap between the New York stage and the soundstages of Hollywood. Before Marlon Brando, James Dean, and others, Montgomery Clift introduced moviegoing audiences to a new form of intense masculinity paired with a striking vulnerability.

His life was marred by tragedy but instead of dwelling on that let’s celebrate the extraordinary career he forged for himself with some of the great directors of his generation. Here are 4 of his greatest movies with performances to match. 

Red River (1948)

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What’s immediately apparent about Monty Clift is how particular he was about his roles. Because his film debut was nothing short of an instant classic. In this iconic sagebrusher from Howard Hawks, Clift went toe-to-toe with a vengeful John Wayne, playing an adopted son and his father who vie for control of the family herd with startling outcomes. 

The Search (1948)

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Once more Clift aligned himself with an esteemed director — this time Fred Zinnemann — and invested himself in a story with real-world urgency. He plays an American soldier who takes in a young boy orphaned by the war. They strike up a relationship while racing against the clock to reunite him with his kin. The chemistry between the two is beautiful to watch.

A Place in The Sun (1951)

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This is the film that will forever define Clift’s career slotting him opposite a dazzling Elizabeth Taylor in one of her first adult roles. The adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, directed by George Stevens, captures the emotional weight Clift was able to channel into many of his greatest roles. It’s one of the most devastating romances of American film thanks in part to Clift and Taylor.

From Here to Eternity (1953)

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Although I’m led to believe the film is slightly overrated, there’s nothing wrong with Monty who brings his continual range as a troubled soldier on the eve of Pearl Harbor. Though it’s easy for him to get overshadowed by kisses in the waves between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr or the gutsy performance of Frank Sinatra, there’s no question Clift is front and center playing opposite Donna Reed.

Worth Watching

The Heiress, I Confess, The Young Lions, Suddenly Last Summer, Wild River, Judgement at Nuremberg, The Misfits

Classic Movie Beginner’s Guide: Paul Newman

Here is the latest in our ongoing series of, hopefully, manageable beginner’s guides to classic movie stars by curating 4 films to watch, while slipping in innumerable more to consider for future reference.

This week our figure of note is Paul Newman actor extraordinaire who became a much-loved icon and remained married to Joanne Woodward for over 50 years! He got his start coming out of the same New York stage-driven scene that revolutionized Hollywood with the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean.

However, his career evolved with the times and one of his greatest attributes was a winsome charisma to go along with his baby blues that led to staggering longevity in Hollywood for decades.

Let’s talk about where to start with Paul Newman.

The Hustler (1961)

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Paul Newman was forever rueful about The Silver Calice, his first major onscreen credit. Some early successes to consider are Somebody Up There Likes Me, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and The Long Hot Summer. However, this is one of his emblematic roles as up-and-coming hotshot Fast Eddie Felson. His pool table battles with Jackie Gleason became the stuff of cinematic legend.

Hud (1963)

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Paul Newman’s career was laden with H-titled films including the previous entry, Harper (1966), and Hombre (1967). However, his turn as Hud is in a league of its own as he plays the carouser with the barb-wired soul in a western world slowly falling apart at the seams in the face of modernity. It’s a blistering turn by Newman as he fully commits to his unsavory part.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

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Paul Newman and Luke Jackson are almost interchangeable. He’s a mythical hero both dashing and anti-establishment. A social outcast and a leader of men who captures their imaginations with his casually confident, indefatigable spirit. It’s rare to find such a fitting hero for a generation and a state of being. “Nothing” is a cool hand indeed.

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (1969)

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It’s the ultimate buddy film. Paul Newman and Robert Redford would forever be linked and immortalized thanks in part to William Goldman’s comical mythology of Old West outlaws. They helped make the anti-hero amusing while redefining the West fading away in the modern age of civilization. The boys had so much fun they came back together for a double-dose with the widely successful The Sting. Still, it’s difficult to top the original.

Worth Watching:

The Left-Handed Gun, Paris Blues, Slap Shot, The Verdict, Nobody’s Fool, Road to Perdition, Cars, etc.

Classic Movie Beginner’s Guide: Kirk Douglas

With this ongoing series, our goal is to help people who are new to classic movies, get a foothold. To make it easy, we give you 4 representative choices and then some supplementary options.

Sadly, with the passing of Kirk Douglas earlier this week at 103 years of age, it seemed apropos to tackle his career for those who might be interested. There are so many great movies to choose from, spanning the decades, but we’ll give it our best shot.

Champion (1949)

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Kirk Douglas had so many stellar early supporting roles in noir: Strange Love Martha Ivers, Out of The Past, I Walk Alone are all memorable. However, Champion was Kirk Douglas’s big break channeling his trademark intensity into the ring as an overzealous fighter. It would set the tone and help shape his growing reputation in Hollywood.

The Bad and The Beautiful (1952)

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Despite all the glitz and glam to go with a Hollywood storyline, Kirk Douglas is as blistering as ever. Like Sunset Boulevard or In a Lonely Place, it shows another side of the industry and Douglas and Lana Turner deliver some of the most memorable performances of their careers in this Vincente Minnelli drama. That’s saying something if you consider Kirk’s work in Detective Story and Ace in The Hole around the same time.

Paths of Glory (1957)

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Paths of Glory stands as one of the great wars films for the very reason it runs counter to many of the narratives we know well. At the core of this Stanley Kubrick WWI piece is Douglas as a man caught in the middle of the insanity of war, in this case, perpetrated by his own superiors. If you want more conventional entertainment there’s also Gunfight at The O.K. Corral (1957) highlighting Douglas’s longtime screen partnership with Burt Lancaster.

Spartacus (1960)

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Spartacus is arguably the tentpole of Kirk Douglas’s entire career, and it has the epic spectacle of sword and sandal epics of the era with Douglas anchoring the action with his typical dimpled charisma opposite Jean Simmons. Behind the scenes, the picture would prove to be a watershed for unofficially ending the Hollywood Blacklist by openly crediting ostracized writer Dalton Trumbo. It’s one of Douglas’s great moral triumphs as a Hollywood producer.

Worth Watching

A Letter to Three Wives, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Man Without a Star, Lust for Life, Last Train from Gun Hill, Lonely are The Brave, Seven Days in May, etc.

Classic Movie Beginner’s Guide: Gene Tierney

In our ongoing series of selecting 4 films to help newly-minted classic movie fans get their bearings, we’re going to look at one of my personal favorites when it comes to the 1940s, Gene Tierney.

If you’re not familiar with her, she filled out a lot of film noir and romances throughout the 40s into the 50s although her career slowed down a bit due to some difficulties in her personal life. Regardless, her impressive filmography speaks for itself with a number of classics to her name.

Laura (1944)

You only need one film to become a cinema icon. Laura is the role of a lifetime for Gene Tierney and she casts a spell as the quintessential doe-eyed noir gal who never meant to entangle anyone. It just so happens that all the men in her life fall in love with her even after her death. Her portrait and the legacy she casts is just that enchanting in this Otto Preminger top-rate noir. The Preminger and Dana Andrews partnership would prove a fruitful alliance in Tierney’s career.

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

If there was any doubt Gene Tierney could play bad and play it well, Leave Her to Heaven shoots any naysayers out of the water. It’s an obsessive, vindictive noir love story made all the more unsettling by its picture-postcard color cinematography. She’s a deadly beauty who more than earns the title of femme fatale after only a few minutes on a lake, her eyes shaded by sunglasses. You’ll never look at her the same.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1948)

Sometimes we need the warmest sort of romantic comedies and this one is tied together by a gentle fantasy story as the title would suggest. When the ghostly suitor opposite Gene Tierney’s Mrs. Muir is Rex Harrison, what we are granted is such a genteel love affair plucked out of a different time and place. For that matter, a different world.

Whirlpool (1949)

This final spot is a hard choice. Where The Sidewalk Ends and Night and The City are probably more well-received film noir, but Whirpool is the one with the juiciest opportunity for Gene Tierney. Instead of playing the doting girl of someone else, she’s a kleptomaniac. Well-meaning but it gets her in heaps of trouble thanks to her husband’s reputation and the manipulative quack played by Jose Ferrer.

Worth Watching:

Shanghai Gesture, Heaven Can Wait, Where The Sidewalk Ends, Night and The City, The Mating Season, Advise & Consent

Classic Movie Beginner’s Guide: John Wayne

Our next addition to our classic movie guide is one of the most beloved mainstays of American popular culture and the western mythos. That’s right. We’re talking about Marion Morrison better known to the viewing public as John “The Duke” Wayne.

As is the case, we will provide 4 films to get you started and it must be acknowledged this is a foolhardy task. This man starred in over 170 films over his prolific career so to whittle it down is near impossible! Regardless, let’s get started, Pilgrim.

Stagecoach (1939)

This shouldn’t be much of a surprise because Stagecoach is the film that made John Wayne. He’d already been in dozen of movies after going from USC football player to Hollywood bit player on the urging of John Ford. Here the director frames the Ringo Kid as a hero, and Wayne does the rest spearheading an impressive allotment of talent including Claire Trevor, Thomas Mitchell, and John Carradine.

The Quiet Man (1952)

John Wayne is known for westerns and for good reason. But The Quiet Man is indicative of his talents outside of the genre. Not only is it another John Ford collaboration, it also pits our star against his most formidable leading lady the irrepressible Maureen O’Hara. The glorious Irish scenery and the charming brogues lay the groundwork for a classic romance. You should also catch them in Rio Grande, McClintock!, and Big Jake.

The Searchers (1956)

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I know I’m going heavy on the John Ford movies, but this revenge western is the granddaddy of them all as Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, one of his most vengeful incarnations (although Red River is right up there!). The final shot of Duke lumbering out of the log cabin framed in the doorway is an unforgettable moment in movies.

True Grit (1969)

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I wanted to include some late-period John Wayne. Sure, he won an Oscar for the eyepatch-wearing U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, but I could care less about that. The film works because of his crotchety persona. When he faces off against Lucky Ned Pepper in the open clearing, reigns between his teeth, guns blaring, it’s the epitome of the John Wayne persona.

Worth Watching:

The Long Voyage Home, They Were Expendable, Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Bravo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Shootist, and many more!

Classic Movie Beginner’s Guide: Teresa Wright

We continue our series chronicling the career of classic Hollywood stars with 4 films. This week our subject is Teresa Wright a genial actress with a high degree of success throughout the 1940s at MGM.

If memory serves, she remains the only performer to have received Oscar nominations for her first three roles. Her later career stalled mostly impart to her willingness to challenge the rigid structures of the studio system.

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the often unsung talent of Teresa Wright!

The Little Foxes (1941)

What an auspicious way to begin a film career not only playing opposite Bette Davis but being directed by William Wyler in a spectacular ensemble including Herbert Marshall and Dan Duryea. Wright more than substantiates her reputation as a wholesome ingenue amid an otherwise treacherous menagerie. Mrs. Miniver would do much the same to uphold her image.

The Pride of The Yankees (1942)

There’s not a better choice to play Eleanor the wife of the Iron Horse, Yankee legend, and ALS casualty Lou Gehrig. The chemistry between Wright and Gary Cooper is genial and playful from the beginning. This is what makes the hardship even more devastating. In her lady years, I heard Wright was quite the avid Yankees fan, and after this film you can see why.

The Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

This is arguably the pinnacle of Teresa Wright’s career pairing her with Alfred Hitchcock and giving her top billing across from Joseph Cotten as her treacherous uncle and namesake Charlie. It’s the height of rural noir where the darkness of the outside world seeps into idyllic Santa Rosa as the wanted widow murderer seeks refuge. Her own is quickly thrown into jeopardy when he begins to suspect she knows…

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

If I’m correct, this is the film that first introduced me to Teresa Wright, and I was immediately smitten with her charms as the grown daughter of Myrna Loy and Frederic March. She finds herself caught up in a romance with a returning G.I. stuck in a loveless marriage (Dana Andrews). What makes it so powerful is the fact this is only one relationship in the patchwork William Wyler creates out of the Boone City community.

Worth Watching:

Mrs. Miniver, Pursued, The Men

Classic Movie Beginner’s Guide: James Stewart

I’ve been trying to help people out who might just be getting started with classic movies. It can be admittedly overwhelming to know what to watch so here are 4 films to aid you in your quest. The man of the hour is none other than Jimmy Stewart.

First things first, if you haven’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life at some past Christmas gathering, you should watch it! Really, you should go watch all his movies, but here are 4 more to start you off.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

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There some good ones before namely, After The Thin Man, Vivacious Lady, and You Can’t Take It With You, but for all intent and purposes, this is where James Stewart’s career really took for battling for the everyman out on the floor of the Senate. It cemented the partnership between Stewart and director Frank Capra.

Winchester 73′ (1950)

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Due to the diversity of his career, Jimmy Stewart had quite the run of a western hero and it was his work with director Anthony Mann that not only revitalized his career but also subverted his gee-shucks image. His portraits proved they could become fiercer and more unhinged starting here and going to Bend of The River, The Naked Spur, The Far Country, and Man From Laramie!

Harvey (1950)

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There are better overall Jimmy Stewart films, but this just might be one of his most disarming performances playing opposite an invisible rabbit. It exudes an undeniable warmth, while simultaneously encapsulating much of his charm as a performer.

Rear Window (1954)

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I wanted to share the love and only have one Hitchcock movie on here. This just isn’t fair! Go watch Vertigo right now if you can. Give it a couple viewings if you need it.

But Rear Window is one of my all-time personal favorites. Stewart gives a wonderful performance from the constraints of a wheelchair. So much of a mystery is played out on the reactions written on his face. It’s a thrilling exhibition of the highest order.

Worth Watching:

Most of them including Destry Rides Again, Shop Around The Corner, The Mortal Storm, VERTIGO, Anatomy of a Murder, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Classic Movie Beginner’s Guide: Katharine Hepburn

I’m back at it again with a new Beginner’s Guide where we take a famous person and make their lengthy career manageable by picking 4 films to watch in order to get your feet wet. Here’s a jumping-off point for Katharine Hepburn.

I make a point of not quantifying actors by how many awards they’ve won. Still, she did win 4 Oscars! There’s little else to say. She was a gem.

Little Women (1933)

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I’m partial to this film because Hepburn exudes all the attributes of Jo March for me. The cast is a fine array of young talent and if you have any attachment to Louisa May Alcott’s material, it’s hard not to appreciate the antiquated candor of this one.

Philadelphia Story (1940)

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It’s almost old-hat to mention Katharine Hepburn was considered “Box Office Poison” at this time in her career (after “failures” like Bringing Up Baby and Holiday). So, of course, I mention it. But Philadelphia Story reestablished her and to this day remains one of her finest vehicles. With director George Cukor, James Stewart, Cary Grant, and Ruth Hussey, what could go wrong?

The African Queen (1951)

Bogart and Hepburn. It’s about as indelible a pair as you can get onscreen. They hardly disappoint in this character piece by John Huston setting the two seafarers off on a conflict-filled adventure through the swamps aboard the titular vessel. As a side note, it’s rather reminiscent of Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison featuring two other luminaries.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

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It’s as much an ending as a beginning. Hepburn was well-known for her on and off-screen romances with Spencer Tracy who was deathly ill. This film would be his last and capped off a partnership that included the likes of Woman of The Year and Adam’s Rib (On second thought, go watch this!). There’s so much history there and they work wonders together one final time.

Worth Watching:

Stage Door, Summertime, The Lion in Winter, On Golden Pond, and so many more!

Classic Movie Beginner’s Guide: 1950s Film Noir

We follow up last week’s guide to classic film noir of the 1940s by continuing into the 1950s with 4 more entries. With the new decade came new progressions in realism, location shooting, and heightened character psychology.

As Paul Schrader wrote, the noir hero started to “go bananas.” What remained were graft, corruption, and the depravity of the human heart. True, gumshoes and femme fatales were never cut-and-dry. Now they were even less so. Enjoy!

Gun Crazy (1950)

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B movies form the backbone of this often down and dirty genre. There are few better than Joseph H. Lewis’s Gun Crazy an exercise in inventive economy. It tells the tale of a romance-fueled crime spree with verve and violent passion. Although mostly forgotten today, John Dall and Peggy Cummins do a fine rendition as a latter-day incarnation of Bonnie and Clyde

The Big Heat (1953)

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It’s a cops and robbers procedural with Glenn Ford as the straight-arrow family man going against the local mob. What Fritz Lang does is boil it over with newfound vindictiveness. We soon find out the good guys aren’t always untarnished nor the noir dames (Gloria Grahame) always the villains. True to form, Lee Marvin plays an incorrigible heavy.

The Killing (1956)

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It’s early Stanley Kubrick so some might find it a stark contrast to his later works. Regardless, it’s one of the finest heist films of all-time. Because the best-laid plans — even the most meticulous — always have a habit of going awry. The set-up is gritty and no-nonsense with a cast headed by a fitting protagonist: Sterling Hayden. Likewise, it’s ending just about sums up film noir fatalism.

Touch of Evil (1958)

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It’s often cited as one of the final signposts of classic film noir. With its tale of below the border corruption instigated by a portly Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) against a Mexican policeman (Charlton Heston) and his wife (Janet Leigh), it more than fits the parameters of the genre. The extended opening shot is just one stunning testament of Welles’ vision as a director.

Worth Watching:

Sunset Blvd., In a Lonely Place, Night and The City, Where The Sidewalk Ends, Ace in The Hole, The Narrow Margin, Kansas City Confidential, Pickup on South Street, Night of The Hunter, Kiss Me Deadly, Bad Day at Black Rock, Murder by Contract, and so many more.