PRIDE MONTH: John Ireland and Montgomery Clift in Red River (1948)

June is Pride Month and, like always, celebrations abound here at the Garden. And while I’ve already talked about some of the big ones, like Morocco (1930), Hell’s Highway (1932) and Some Like It Hot (1959), as well as the more obscure stuff like Young Man With a Horn (1950), there is no shortage of LGBT-related content in Classic Hollywood films, however brief. And because I’m in a Westerns mood lately, I’ve decided to go with the precursor to Brokeback Mountain, Red River (1948, dir. Howard Hawks).

Now, while the homoerotic undertones are just that rather than the plot of the film – no kidding, thanks a lot, Joseph Breen… – it is quite wonderful and something everybody always talks about when Red River comes up. Especially when it’s up against the intense masculinity of the film: Tom Dunson (John Wayne) and his adopted son Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift in his debut film) lead a cattle drive to Missouri over a period of fourteen years until Dunson’s obsessive behavior becomes too much for everyone, leading to a war between the two men. Among the cattle ranch is Cherry Valance (John Ireland), a gunslinger who immediately strikes up a rather intense friendship with Garth. Right away, we know exactly where we are with these two: Valance asks to see Garth’s gun, after which they compare each other’s weapons, quip about Swiss watches and women, before having a shootout between them to show each other their skills. Their sizzling chemistry isn’t lost on anyone, least of all Groot (Walter Brennan), whose assessment of the whole situation is almost as erotic as the scene itself… Their subsequent conversations, which include Valance claiming Garth initially ‘turned him down’ when he asked to join the ranch, are equally charged with undertones that are impossible to overlook in 2021. They say this might have been the reason for why Valance’s part was gradually cut from the film, as Howard Hawks realized what was going on while in the editing room. This is, of course, surprising, considering the undertones of some of the characters in his biggest films: Cary Grant wearing a robe, saying he ‘went gay’ in Bringing up Baby (1938), the relationship between Geiger and Lundgren in The Big Sleep (1946) – as far as anybody can tell in that madness of a plot -, Cary Grant, again, in drag in I Was a Male War Bride (1949), among many others. Either way, it’s hot, it’s grand and it leaves you wanting more.

WORLD CINEMA: Purple Noon (1960)

We’re back in France (and Italy)! This time, with the first film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr Ripley, Plein Soleil or Purple Noon (1960, dir. René Clément). You know the story: Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) is sent to Italy to get Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) to come back to America to take over his family’s business. Instead, the two of them, along with Philippe’s girlfriend Marge (Marie Laforêt), enjoy an idyllic summer, drinking and partying, until one morning when Tom kills Philippe on his yacht in an attempt to steal his identity. What follows is an increasingly tense game of cat-and-mouse as Ripley continues to act out his plan…

The role that propelled him to stardom, Alain Delon, twenty-five years old and obscenely, almost offensively good-looking, is Tom Ripley at his most deliciously conniving. A classic example of a villain we root for, sort of, maybe, Tom Ripley is charming, smug, smart and heartless and he uses all of that to his advantage. And, in one of my favorite tropes in cinema, his crimes are set against the backdrop of a gorgeous place to further contextualize their horribleness. Such crimes are, of course, nearly impossible to pull off in this day and age, which makes them even more fascinating when played out in a film from 1960 (or even 1999) and it’s almost a privilege to watch his mind at work as he gradually descends into something we’re not sure he’s going to get out of… The screenplay written by Clément himself and Paul Gégauff conveys this beautifully and the climax is equally rewarding – in fact, they won the Edgar for Best Foreign Film Screenplay in 1962 for their work on the film.

With a score by Nino Rota resembling, yes, the one from The Godfather, Purple Noon’s dream-like essence is intoxicating as we fall under Tom Ripley’s spell on that lovely Mediterranean coastline. *sigh* a French film set in Italy… my heart can’t take such perfection!

Hidden Classics Blogathon – Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

The Spring Blogathon at the Classic Movie Blog Association is here and this year, our lovely hosts decided to go with Hidden Classics – movies not everybody has seen, but everybody should! And because I’m currently writing a Western feature screenplay, I’ve been binging a few of them lately and one of my very favorites is Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, dir. John Sturges), one of those psychological thriller Westerns that never go out of style.

In it, Spencer Tracy plays John J. Macreedy, a one-armed man who arrives in a small, practically deserted town looking for a man named Komoko. Upon hearing this, the locals become hostile… They slowly but surely antagonize Macreedy in increasingly aggressive ways until the truth about what happened to Komoko comes out…

Boasting a cast including, *takes deep breath*, Ernest Borgnine, Walter Brennan, Robert Ryan, Dean Jagger, Anne Francis and Lee Marvin, among others, everyone plays off each other extremely well, each character more vicious than the other in what is essentially a hodgepodge of mystery, intrigue, action and tension. So much tension. Right from the beginning, as the train carrying Macreedy comes into town, we understand that something is off. As it turns out, this is the first time the train has stopped in this town in four years… This wonderful bit of foreshadowing is only the start of Macreedy’s problems in Black Rock and as we slowly uncover the truth, the film takes a turn and becomes an allegory with its sad message piercing through our hearts and minds. This, not unlike High Noon (1952, dir. Fred Zinnemann), is a Western with a conscience, and Tracy’s Oscar-nominated performance is one of cinema’s finest interpretations of the now iconic trope of the Western man standing alone and fighting for what he believes in. An often overlooked gem that gets better every time you watch it.

Katharine Hepburn on The Dick Cavett Show, October 1973

I’m not saying Katharine Hepburn’s once in a lifetime appearance on The Dick Cavett Show is one of my favorite things that’s ever happened in pop culture history, but… yeah, it is. From re-arranging the furniture, because duh, to deciding to go ahead right then and there after showing up for a quick test with Cavett, to, of course, displaying her Katharine Hepburn awesomeness for everyone to see, this whole thing is a sight to behold. And we got two nights out of it! So, I wish you a happy Kate Day and I hope you check it out on YouTube, if you haven’t already!

WORLD CINEMA: Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)

(I’m going to say it again, folks…) It’s Oscar season! Aaaaand, today’s the big day! Oscars 2021 are here, woop! So, to celebrate, this month’s WORLD CINEMA goes out to Les Enfants du Paradis (1945, dir. Marcel Carné), one of the first films not in the English language to be nominated for Best Original Screenplay (Jacques Prevert).

Set in Paris’ Boulevard du Crime, Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paraside) follows a love… quintet (?), with Garance (Arletty), a beautiful courtesan, and the four men who want her: actor Frederick Lemaitre (Pierre Brasseur), the rebellious Pierre-Francois Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), mime artist Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) and the aristocrat Count Edouard de Montray (Louis Salou). Right from the off, we get this sense that, to them, Garance is a woman to be admired, pursued and conquered and during its 3-hour run (yes), that is precisely what they all try to do.

France’s answer to Gone with the Wind and frequently referred to as such, Les Enfants du Paradis was made under ridiculously arduous circumstances (look it up, it’s the stuff of nightmares), and what came out of it is almost too grand and too spectacular to fully go into and do it justice (especially considering this is my second attempt to do so here at the Garden). An ambitious masterpiece about love, showbiz, the theatre, Paris and its delicious 19th Century decadence, Les Enfants du Paradis is a sight to behold.

Six silly Oscar jokes – 30s and 40s edition

It’s Oscar season! This year’s Academy Awards ceremony will be held on 25th April and, once again, it will be host-less. And while I’m used to it by now, I do like a host! And because this is a Classic Hollywood blog, you know what’s coming (or do you? Do you ever know what’s coming here at the Garden? I’d like to think I’ve kept you on your toes for the last six years). So here is my ridiculous attempt at being funny with six stupid jokes I would have made at the Oscars back in the 30s and 40s. (See?) Move over, Bob.

– Welcome to the 5th annual Academy Awards. Everyone from Hollywood is here! I heard they’re already making the sequel to Grand Hotel as we speak.  

– Victor Fleming was busy this year. Gone with the Wind AND The Wizard of Oz. Hey Vic, leave something for George Cukor… Oh wait.

– Walt Disney is set to receive the Irving Thalberg award tonight. That’s just what he needs, another one.

– Ray Milland is nominated for The Lost Weekend and if he doesn’t win… well, you’ve seen The Lost Weekend.

– This year we have Supporting Actor and Actress nominees for the first time and it’s about time. In fact, if you ask me, I think it’s outrageous Asta hasn’t gotten a Lifetime Achievement award yet.

– Ingrid Bergman is nominated for Gaslight and she said she was absolutely thrilled! At least, she thinks she did.

Happy Oscar season, everyone! More with WORLD CINEMA later this month.

WORLD CINEMA: The Blue Angel (1930)

The film that gave us Marlene! Germany’s first feature-length talkie and the first collaboration between director Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich, Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel, 1930) should also get credit as one of German cinema’s darkest masterpieces.

Written by Carl Zuckmayer, Karl Vollmoller and Robert Liebmann and based on Heinrich Mann’s novel Professor Unrat, The Blue Angel tells the story of Professor Rath (Emil Jannings) who, after discovering that his students are passing around photos of a cabaret singer, goes to The Blue Angel nightclub hoping to catch them, but instead falls for Lola Lola, the role that made Marlene Dietrich a household name – the English language version of ‘Ich bin von Kopf bis Fub auf Liebe eingestellt’, Falling in Love Again, became her signature tune.

An early example of German expressionism, The Blue Angel is as bleak as they come. Set in a quiet, albeit adorable little town, it is a tragic tale of human desire followed by an inescapable descent into madness. This isn’t the only film to address this trope – Scarlet Street (1945), directed by another German cinema great, Fritz Lang, comes to mind – but it is perhaps one of the most striking: Professor Rath is a simple man. He enjoys the simple things in life but is hopelessly lonely. Until Lola Lola comes along. He falls in love with her (who wouldn’t!), they get married and, over the years, he becomes more and more dependent on her while deeply regretting everything that has happened… It’s hard to watch, maybe because it all feels like such an unjust punishment, but it’s so beautifully done. That stark German realism does wonders here and, by the end of it, your heart breaks for Professor Rath… A sad tale, indeed.

Suspense (1913) and Lois Weber, America’s first female director

As everybody knows, March is Women’s History Month and with Best Director nominees Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell making history yesterday at the announcement of Oscar nominations – this is the first time two women are nominated in the category in the same year -, I thought it would be fitting to talk about America’s first female director and the 1913 thriller that in 2020 was added to the National Film Registry as ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’, the 10-minute short Suspense.

Picture it: a young mother (played by Lois Weber herself) and her child are left alone in an isolated house, when a wandering tramp decides to break in… Boom. That’s all you need. A premise that’s been used time and again, Lois Weber knows just what to do with it. Generally regarded as the first film to use the split screen technique, it also deserves credit for employing interesting close-ups, and POV shots that no doubt influenced Sir Alfred Hitchcock himself – the shot of the tramp walking up the stairs is particularly reminiscent of Psycho (1960). Suspense is thrilling, intriguing and effective until the very end, with all the elements in the right place. Lois Weber’s career is mind-blowing and way too extensive to go into here (seriously, look her up), but one look at this film and we immediately understand why she was so well-regarded by audiences as well as her peers, both for her body of work and the creativity of her output. Quite simply, Lois Weber was a badass.

WORLD CINEMA: Summer with Monika (1953)

For my second installment of the WORLD CINEMA series, how about we have a stroll through Sweden’s working class towns with Ingmar Bergman’s Summer with Monika (1953)?

A refreshingly honest look at teenage love beyond its summer timeframe, Summer with Monika follows a young teenage couple, Harry (Lars Ekborg) and Monika (Harriet Andersson) as they spend an idyllic summer together sailing on Harry’s father’s boat, away from their hometown, family and boring jobs. When the summer comes to an end, however, and Monika discovers she’s pregant, they are left with the growing responsibilities that neither of them could have predicted.

Summer with Monika has one of Bergman’s simplest plots while holding so much meaning at the same time and exploring its contrasting elements effectively: Monika’s carefree rebellion vs Harry’s responsible easy-going attitude, the town’s old-fashioned ways vs the couple’s desire to be free, and, of course, the longing for a summer love affair vs what happens when it’s over and life returns… Framed by some of the most gorgeous cinematography ever put on film, Summer with Monika puts Harriet Andersson right in the middle of it, with its candid depiction of sensuality and nudity, which was very controversial at the time. Not only that but it also deserves credit for making its main character unlikeable, unashamed and human. In one of the movie’s most devastating scenes, Monika dares you to judge her with an intense, piercing look at the camera that takes the whole ‘breaking the fourth wall’ motif to a whole new level! In a word, stunning.

Binge-worthy YouTube movie channels

I spend a ridiculous amount of time doing nothing. And part of that consists of watching videos on YouTube about movies and television and because the theme here at the Garden this year is unity and coming together, I want to share a few of my favorite movie YouTubers with you. Film nerds unite! Let’s go.

Eyebrow Cinema – In-depth script analysis, storytelling, characters, themes and motifs, you’ll find everything here! Eyebrow Cinema dissects films of all kinds intelligently and with a refreshingly straight-forward attitude. Eyebrow Cinema – YouTube

One Hundred Years of Cinema – Tracking the evolution of cinema through the years starting in 1915, OHYOC focuses on one movie per year, why it’s great and how it achieved its place in film history. 1941 goes to Citizen Kane and ’42 to Casablanca, unsurprisingly, but there are some unusual choices along the way! One Hundred Years of Cinema – YouTube

Jack’s Movie Reviews – Not unlike Eyebrow Cinema, the narrator explores storytelling and screenplays, as well as broad themes and, sometimes, entire genres. Their essay about the screenplay of Chinatown is particularly good. Jack’s Movie Reviews – YouTube

Be Kind Rewind – each video is about a different Best Actress Oscar win, comprehensively going through the history of the nominees, circumstances, individual films and Hollywood politics that made each win possible. The narration is fantastic, exuding knowledge and a touch of humor that frankly makes this channel addictive. Be Kind Rewind – YouTube

CineFix – They navigate through cinema’s history with ease and confidence, compiling massive lists including Influential Directors, Wardrobe and Rule-Breaking Films, with enourmous knowledge and genuine admiration. In an ideal world, movie talk would be like this, open-minded and non-discriminatory. Classic, modern, Hollywood, international, iconic, obscure, anything goes on this channel! Simply put, CineFix is what every movie buff should aspire to be. CineFix – YouTube

Happy binging, everyone!

One Hundred Years of Cinema – Tracking the evolution of cinema through the years starting in 1915, OHYOC focuses on one movie per year, why it’s great and how it achieved its place in film history. 1941 goes to Citizen Kane and ’42 to Casablanca, unsurprisingly, but there are some unusual choices along the way!