4 Star Films’ Favorite Movies: 21-25

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One of the reasons film is so engaging and fascinating is the discussion that it evokes from all people. Every person, no matter their age or knowledge, can have their own subjective opinion on a film and why they liked it, or better yet why they hated it so much that they wanted to throw up.

But I’m going to cut the discussion short and put my cinematic life on the line by being completely vulnerable with some of my admittedly subjective picks for my favorite movies. Any agreement is highly encouraged. All dissenting opinions will be disregarded without a thought. Enjoy #21-#25 in this ongoing series:

21. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

This first title was love at first sight. All the things I love about a great comedy. Completely lacking sophistication and full of hilarious insanity. Also, Mad…World has arguably the greatest ensemble every assembled for one film. Everyone shows up for the party and it’s wonderful. Jonathan Winters was my favorite discovery from this film because he truly was a comic gem of a man.

22. Some Like it Hot (1959)

Jack Lemmon will always and forever be one of my favorite actors. Maybe it’s because he reminds me of my Grandpa because my Grandpa is a funny man. But that’s neither here nor there. Some Like it Hot stems from the genius of Billy Wilder, always ready with a funny storyline (two cross-dressing musicians fleeing Chicago gangsters) and a rapier wit. Of course, there’s Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe too, and the Hotel Del Coronado makes a memorable appearance filling in for Florida. Boy, oh boy, am I a boy!

23. The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

Now this one might seem kind of random. But I quickly fell in love with the fateful whimsy of Jacques Demy. His love of American musicals is evident with the casting of both Gene Kelly and George Chakiris, but this is also undeniably a French production starring sisters Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac. Michel Legrand’s music is surprisingly catchy and the fact that the film’s exposition is all given through song intrigued me from the beginning.

24. Laura

Film-Noir became a favorite genre, movement, style (whatever you want to call it) early on and Laura was one of the reasons why. I think I was smitten with Laura (Gene Tierney) much like our protagonists, and the film’s core mystery was gripping in more ways than one. David Raksin’s haunting score adds yet another layer to the drama as does Otto Preminger’s direction through the film’s interiors.

25. To Kill a Mockingbird

By now Harper Lee’s novel and Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch are almost intertwined in my mind, so much so, it becomes difficult to separate the two. And since I loved the book growing up, it’s only fitting that the film adaption would also hold a special place. Its set of sentiment and moral uprightness is hard for me to disregard, even when I’m at my most cynical. Mary Badham does a wonderful job as does Brock Peters — the perfect foils for Peck’s monumental portrayal.

Review: Some Like it Hot (1959)

somelikeithot1Only Billy Wilder would dare to make such a film. Somewhere amidst the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and men dressed in drag, he could find the inspiration for one of the most high-powered, zaniest, even subversive comedies of all times. There’s very little overstatement in that assertion because Some Like it Hot is all that and most importantly it’s just good unadulterated fun.

It finds its genesis in the Jazz Age of Chicago circa 1929 where gangsters like Spats Colombo (George Raft) are running the streets, the crash hasn’t quite hit yet, and the Dodgers are a long way away from leaving Brooklyn. George Raft takes on a parody role hearkening back to the days of Scarface, but this time, there are a lot of laughs in the wake of his destruction.

Small-time musicians, Joe and Jerry, are living paycheck to paycheck and things aren’t going so hot for them when the authorities raid a not so legitimate establishment. Immediately they high tail it, but they’re not safe for long when they unwittingly stumble upon the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. They frantically flee the scene of the crime knowing the mobsters will soon be after them and to make matters worse they have no money. What to do? What any desperate pair of musicians would do, dress up as women and join an all-girl ensemble for three glorious weeks in sunny Florida. Sounds ludicrous when Jerry (Jack Lemmon) first drops the idea half-serious, but after the hot water they find themselves in, Jerry (Tony Curtis) takes him up on the masquerade.

somelikeithot2So they pack their bags, do up their faces, and change their voices an octave or so higher. They wobble to the train station on top of their heels as Josephine and Daphne, just what the band leader Sweet Sue ordered and our two effeminate fugitives get aboard for a wild ride indeed.

They soon meet the other gals including the vivaciously scatterbrained Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), who already has a strike against her for getting caught drinking. It looks like bad news for her during a bouncy rendition of the 20s tune “Runnin’ Wild.” Amid the toot-tooting of Josephine’s sax and the bass twirling of Daphne, Daphne also finds time to bail Sugar out. She’s quick to make friends too during an after-hours get-together in her compartment. It’s one of the uproarious moments where Jerry/Daphne must go through the battle of the sexes. He’s so giddy to have so much female company and yet he must maintain his facade. What’s brilliant about Lemmon is he actually seem to genuinely relish his part. Whether it’s his character or not I’m not sure, but he buys into his role especially when it comes to his budding romance, but that comes later.

All things are bright and cheery when they arrive in Florida with palm trees and bachelors galore, all ready and waiting for a little tete-a-tete. One such bachelor is Osgood Fielding (Joe E. Brown), who immediately has his eyes on Daphne. And let the comedic irony and romantic entanglements begin. What follows are two absolutely preposterous tales of romance that crank up the absurdity.

somelikeithot4Joe swipes a sailor’s cap and a pair of glasses while donning his best/worst Cary Grant impression to woo Sugar as an aloof magnate complete with oil fields and a yacht. It’s all part of his plan to win her love, and Daphne views the whole thing disapprovingly, hoping to catch his buddy in the lie. Thus, now Joe has committed himself to two roles and somehow he’s able to keep the plates spinning by borrowing Osgood’s boat for a romantic night with Sugar and using a bicycle to rush back to the hotel and put on the whole Josephine act.

Meanwhile, Jerry gets more and more invested in the whole Daphne performance dodging Osgood’s playful advances, while finally dancing the night away to a killer tango. It’s the diversion Joe needs in his plan to get with Sugar, and he’s succeeding. But Jerry, or should we say Daphne, isn’t doing so bad either. With a flower between her teeth and when she’s not trying to lead, they make quite the couple. Could there be wedding bells?

All that hilarity goes on halt when Spats Colombo and his gang come to town for a conference and the girls avoid suspicion at first, but their nervousness tips the mobsters off. The chase continues and the boys must finally drop the act if they want to get out alive. But Joe delivers one final gesture to Sugar not wanting to ditch her completely. They plan to catch a ride with Osgood who will elope with Daphne. But in a last-ditch effort, Joe finally lets everything drop and breaks all pretenses. It makes for an awkward situation when he gives Sugar a big kiss in front of a full audience, still dressed in drag.

As they get away in the little motorboat, Joe pleads with Sugar not to stick by him, because he really is a bum. But she doesn’t care, does she? He’s Tony Curtis, a Cary Grant type. Now it’s Jerry’s turns as he tries to cook up excuse after excuse why he cannot marry Osgood, and of course every time he’s rebuffed. Finally, in exasperation, he pulls off the wig, loses the voice, and yells, “I’m a man!” Without missing a beat, his beau shoots back, “Well, Nobody’s Perfect.” The look on Lemmon’s face is priceless and this moment is the perfect capstone on one of the wildest films you could ever imagine.

somelikeithot5It’s absolutely astounding that despite all the headaches and troubles Marilyn Monroe brought to the set, including constantly flubbing lines and being generally difficult, her performance bubbles over with a playfully ditsy sensuality that captivates the screen. I for one can hardly ever see the turmoil going on underneath because the role of Sugar is so vibrantly joyful, innocent, and genuinely funny put up next to her great co-stars. Her numbers like “I Wanna Be Loved by You” exude the friskiness that she was known for and there’s no question that Monroe has a magnetism on the screen that was unequivocally her.

Joe E. Brown plays the giddy playboy with devilish hilarity, the perfect comic companion for Lemmon. While Tony Curtis is great, he plays the straight man in the sense, that it feels like he’s just doing this out of necessity. Lemmon is an absolute riot, taking on this role willingly and bubbling over with enthusiasm that is palpable. He has that cackling laugh that adds an exclamation point too many of his conversations and when he starts dancing around with those maracas, shaking his hips, it’s hard not to crack a big goofy smile.

Billy Wilder always had a gift for films with wonderfully entertaining characters and plot lines that poke holes and find humor in modern sensibilities. He gets away with so much by dancing the fine line of what is acceptable for the 1950s and yet he puts it together in such an engaging and uproarious way that it remains a classic. Not just of comedy but of film in general. I’m not ashamed to say that I do like it hot. Although air conditioning is nice every once and awhile.

5/5 Stars

The Defiant Ones (1958)

2672e-defiant_ones_posterStarring Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier with director Stanley Kramer, the film opens in the pouring rain with a truck full of convicts. It goes off road and no one is hurt except two men escape.  A Sheriff an state policemen begin tracking them on foot. However, this pair is unique since one is the white “Joker” Jackson and the other is a black man named Noah Cullen. Their racial prejudice and conflict of interests causes sparks to fly. Through it all they are forced to work together just to survive, whether it be wading through rapids, climbing out of a ditch, or trying to break their chains.  Along the way they narrowly escape a hanging and they meet a lonely white woman. Jackson is forced to make a decision about his newfound comrade and Cullen in turn also makes a sacrifice of his own. This is such an extraordinary story about racial conflict. Ultimately, they are no longer so much black or white as much as they are fellow men. In an era full of racial tensions, this film was extremely relevant and it is still powerful to this day.

 
4/5 Stars

Winchester ’73 (1950)

2604e-winchester_73_-_1950-_posterStarring James Stewart and directed by Anthony Mann, this western follows the journey a special rifle takes in the old west. Stewart wins it in a competition but it gets stolen soon after. An Indian trader wins it in a card game only to have an Indian take it. Stewart, his pal, get pinned down with some cavalry by the Indians. They survive and the rifle is given to a young man with a girlfriend after Stewart is gone. A treacherous gunslinger coolly kills for it but then gives it up to the original bandit who claims it as his. In a final mountaintop showdown, Stewart faces off with his estranged brother who killed their father. He wins back his rifle and rides back into town to his friends. This is a good western with an interesting storytelling device. It was a surprise to see Will Geer, Rock Hudson, and Tony Curtis as unknowns.

4.5/5 Stars

Some Like it Hot (1959)

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Often considered one of the greatest comedies of all time, this film is certainly hilarious and special. This was one of Marilyn Monroe’s best performances, and her costars were absolutely brilliant. As far as humor goes it cannot get much zanier and crazier than this.

*May Contain Spoilers

In this Billy Wilder directed comedy, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and of course, Marilyn Monroe teamed up in making a great movie. In the era of Chicago gangsters, two male musicians witness a shooting that they wish they had not. In order to escape, they join a traveling band. The only catch is that it’s an all-women group, and so they get dressed up to win the job.

The rest of the film follows their crazy cross-dressing antics with the band as they spend their time at a beach resort in Florida. It includes two tremendous love stories on completely different ends of the spectrum! One involving a wealthy young yacht owner and Sugar. The other involving Daphne and well…The movie was filmed in black and white to camouflage all the makeup but as you will find out no movie’s perfect! However, the script from Billy Wilder as well as Lemmon’s performance are the real attraction to keep an eye out for.

Watching this film certainly gave me tremendous respect for the writing. The double talk between Josephine and Daphne is great. There is tremendous comedic irony, and some of the sequences are downright hilarious. First and foremost, I think Jack Lemmon is a wonderfully funny man, but he plays so well off of Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, and Joe E. Brown. The basic concept of male musicians masquerading as women was a good idea, but I think these actors with Wilder’s directing really made it work well.

The juxtaposition of the two love stories is important too because you could call Some Like it Hot a romance or even a crime-drama initially, but above all, it is unabashedly a comedy. All you need to see is Jack Lemmon with maracas or hear the last line of the film and that remains completely evident.

It was fun to finally see the  Hotel Del Coronado, as I thought to myself that this is where some of the film was shot. Tony Curtis even spoke those four eponymous words on the same beach over 50 years ago now. It may be over 50 years later, but in my mind this film is timeless. I could not help but think of Jack Lemmon’s line as I reclined on the beach, “I’m a boy. I’m a boy. I wish I were dead. I’m a boy. Boy, oh boy, am I a boy.” Hopefully, I never run into the same problems they did.

“Syncopators. Does that mean you play that very fast music…jazz?”
“Yeah. Real hot.”
“I guess some like it hot. I personally prefer classical music.”
~Tony Curtis to Marilyn Monroe

5/5 Stars

Spartacus (1960)

91a01-spartacus_sheetaIn this epic film starring Kirk Douglas and directed by Stanley Kubrick, a slave turned gladiator leads a revolt against the Roman empire. Spartacus leads his fellow plebeians in a sacking and burning of the countryside while slowly gaining followers. Along the way he is reunited with his love (Jean Simmons). However, soon all hope of triumph or escape is gone and Spartacus must face the Roman legions in one final battle. Utterly overwhelmed by the other forces, his followers are slaughtered and taken prisoner. With all hope gone he must kill his friend (Tony Curtis) and then face death himself by crucifixion. But all is not lost because his wife and child do get away allowing his legacy to remain. Overall this film is good but it does have flaws, one of them being the casting of Tony Curtis with his New York accent. Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, and Peter Ustinov all have important roles in this film as well.

5/5 Stars

The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) – Film-Noir

Starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, this film has memorable dialogue and chilling performances. Curtis is Sydney Falco, a greedy and conniving press agent who is constantly trying to get on the good side of influential people. His main target is the renowned if not ruthless gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Lancaster). Falco bargains for publicity he desperately needs in exchange fro breaking up the romance of Hunsecker’s kid sister. The plan seems to work just as Falco foresaw, however a heated confrontation leads to Hunsecker seeking revenge on his sister’s boyfriend. Ruthlessly he has the man framed with the help of a reluctant Falco. Finally, Falco has had enough but Hunsecker turns on him too in order to protect his image and his sister. As the film closes, Hunsecker’s almost suicidal sister leaves to go back to her boyfriend and he is all alone. Lancaster and Curtis both give performances that brim with corruption and sleaze. The score and the New York atmosphere also help to bring the film alive.

4.5/5 Stars