Rope (1948)

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Synopsis: Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) think they’ve got it all. Both with genius IQs and coming from well-to-do families, they wholeheartedly believe in Nietzsche’s theory of the “Superman,” one who is so superior to other human beings that he is not required to abide by their laws. To prove their superiority, the boys plot to commit the “perfect murder,” strangling their friend David Kentley and concealing his body in their apartment. However, Phillip is horrified when Brandon takes their scheme a bit too far and invites David’s friends and family over for a dinner party, serving the food from atop the trunk containing David’s body. One of the guests is the boys’ philosophy professor Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), the man who taught them Nietzsche’s theory. Will Rupert be able to see through the boys’ so-called “perfect crime?”

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

It always astounds me that Rope isn’t thought of alongside Psycho, North by Northwest, and Vertigo as one of Alfred Hitchcock‘s best films. While it gets a lot of play in film classes due to Hitch’s “revolutionary” method of limited cuts, making (most of) the entire film feel like one continuous real-time take, out in the real world this is often looked down on as a distracting “gimmick.” I would argue that the point of view in Rear Window is also a gimmick, but that film doesn’t get nearly as much flack as Rope does. Maybe that’s because the Rear Window gimmick is more deftly executed than the Rope gimmick; I’ll give you that one. Regardless, it’s beyond my comprehension why some people apparently find the editing in Rope so distracting that they can’t realize what a fascinating film it is. In fact, it’s my favorite Hitchcock thriller. (We even recreated it with toys once!) But maybe that’s because I appreciate in Rope something that not all viewers can see, or want to see, and that is this: Rope is really, really gay. And that’s what I like best about it. (more…)

For the Love of Film (Noir): No Way Out (1950)

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Synopsis: Dr. Luther Brooks (Sidney Poitier) has just finished his internship and passed the state licensing exam, officially making him the first full-fledged black doctor in the city. However, still feeling a bit wet behind the ears, he decides to spend an extra year training in the hospital prison ward under the tutelage of Dr. Dan Wharton (Stephen McNally). This proves to be his downfall when he is forced to treat two would-be burglars, Ray Biddle (Richard Widmark) and his brother Johnny, both shot in the leg trying to rob a gas station. They’re from the poor side of town, Beaver Canal, and Ray doesn’t take kindly at all to being treated by a black doctor. But Dr. Brooks suspects there’s something besides a superficial gunshot wound to Johnny’s symptoms. Brooks attempts a spinal tap on Johnny, suspecting he may have a brain tumor, while Ray screams at the doctor to stop killing his brother. When Johnny dies during the procedure, Dr. Brooks needs an autopsy to determine if he really did have a brain tumor – or if Brooks inadvertently let Ray’s racist epithets get to him and did in fact kill Johnny with the spinal tap. Knowing the autopsy could prove Dr. Brooks’ innocence, Ray as next of kin refuses to allow the procedure. Drs. Brooks and Wharton must appeal to Johnny’s ex-wife Edie (Linda Darnell) to convince Ray to change his mind. But is she prepared to deny everything she was taught in Beaver Canal to give a black man a fair chance at justice? Is it even possible to sway Ray’s racist reasoning?

This is an official entry in the prestigious For the Love of Film (Noir) film preservation blogathon, benefiting the marvelous Film Noir Foundation. Between February 14-21, over a hundred bloggers are banding together to show their appreciation of the noir genre and to help raise funds to restore the 1950 film The Sound of Fury. To read more about this incredible effort, including details on the film we are working to save and the lovely raffle prizes(!) you could win from donating, click the image at left. MORE IMPORTANTLY: to make a donation to this very worthy cause, either CLICK HERE or on the ENORMOUS donate button I’ve put at the bottom of this post.

First of all, huge apologies for being M.I.A. the past few weeks and posting my contribution to this wonderful blogathon at the last possible second. I have been a baaad little blogger, and there’s really no excuse, so I’d rather not waste time trying to explain and just jump right into this review. I’m not too experienced in the ways of film noir – as is evidenced by my first noir review, where I’m positively shocked by the film’s pessimistic outlook on life! – but the first time I heard about this blogathon, I knew I had to participate. I thoroughly enjoyed my first blogathon just a month ago and was eager to contribute to another, especially one supporting the noble cause of film preservation. Because, if the purpose of this fundraiser is to preserve the noir genre and keep it from dying out – well, then, I’m one of the main beneficiaries, aren’t I? I am new to noir and still learning; it’s only natural that I’d want to help preserve this unique period in cinema history so that I can continue to have examples, both classic and obscure, to learn from. I don’t want to just read about noir in books, I want to be able to see it and feel it, so that I can learn directly from the source, make my own observations, and let noir affect me the way it affected audiences when it was originally released, feel for myself that unsettling and foreboding atmosphere that made it a unique genre (or at least a unique style, if you want to debate the genre aspects). Think of the example of silent film: sure, we film nerds love ’em, but how many laypeople know the first thing about early cinema, or indeed have any interest in knowing? So few of our silent films are left to learn from, which leads to a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy: if we don’t have examples, we can’t learn from them, and if we haven’t learned from them, we don’t care enough to preserve what’s left of the examples. For the good of cinema, and for the good of education and entertainment, film preservation is indeed noble work. (more…)

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

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Synopsis: It’s Christmas Eve in Japan, but the only present friends Gin, Hana, and Miyuki are hoping for is a decent meal and a warm place to sleep. Gin’s gambling debts have reduced him to scrounging on the street; Hana is a former night club performer who lost her job and, with it, the only family she ever knew; and Miyuki is a teenage runaway trying to keep her distance from her repressive father. All three are homeless, and have joined together in a makeshift family to help each other survive another night on the cold streets of Tokyo. But their lives are forever changed when they encounter a small baby abandoned in a pile of trash. While Gin thinks they should take the infant to the police, Hana sees the serendipitous discovery as a Christmas miracle, and makes it her mission (and Gin and Miyuki’s mission as well, much to their chagrin) to return the lost child to her family.

Satoshi Kon (October 12, 1963 – August 24, 2010) was born in Kushiro, Hokkaidō, Japan. He studied graphic design at Musashino Art University in Tokyo, graduating in 1982. In 1984 he published his first manga, the short story Toriko, which won him a runner-up spot in Young Magazine‘s 10th Annual Tetsuya Chiba Awards. He then found work as an assistant to Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of the renowned manga Akira. In the late 1980s, Kon slowly transitioned to film work, acting as occasional animator, layout artist, and screenwriter. In 1995 he acted as writer, layout artist, and art director of “Magnetic Rose,” the first of three short films adapted from Otomo’s work and compiled in the anime omnibus Memories. Kon made his directorial debut with 1998’s Perfect Blue, a psychological thriller loosely based on Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s novel of the same name. He followed this with 2001’s Millennium Actress, which won high acclaim as well as numerous international awards, including tying for Grand Prize with Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in Japan’s Agency of Cultural Affairs’ Media Arts Festival. He followed this with 2003’s Tokyo Godfathers, which won an Excellence Prize at the Media Arts Festival; and the thirteen-episode television series Paranoia Agent, which he created, wrote, and directed. In 2006 he released Paprika, which won the Best Feature Length Theatrical Anime Award at the sixth annual Tokyo Anime Awards (and is now credited as being highly influential on Christopher Nolan’s 2010 smash box office hit Inception). He then began work on his next film The Dream Machine, described by Kon as “a road movie for robots” targeted at younger audiences. Tragically, in May 2010 Satoshi Kon was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Though he showed relatively few signs of illness, the cancer rapidly progressed, and Kon passed away on August 24, 2010, shocking his friends and fans the world over. He was 46 years old.

Yes, I know an anime movie from 2003 doesn’t seem to fit in with the theme of classic film on the surface, but, like Zelda Rubinstein, I can’t let my In Memoriam series end without talking about Satoshi Kon. Like Rubinstein, I feel Kon’s death has gone unnoticed by the majority of film fans who simply may be unaware of his work and his importance to Japanese animation. I know I mucked it up by not getting all my planned reviews done in December, so a lot of important people who died in 2010 are going unmentioned; this is to be my last review in this series, and out of all of them, Satoshi Kon is the only one I couldn’t bring myself to leave out. That should show you how important his work is to me, Tokyo Godfathers in particular. (more…)

Hud (1963)

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Synopsis: Self-confessed ruthless jerk Hud Bannon (Paul Newman) spends his nights brawling in bars and sleeping with the women (married and unmarried alike) of his small Texas town, and his days avoiding the responsibilities designated to him by his ranch-owning father Homer (Melvyn Douglas). He also unwillingly takes on the function of role model to teenage nephew Lonnie (Brandon De Wilde), who is finally coming of age and trying to decide what kind of man he wants to be: a principled cowboy like Homer, or a pleasure-seeking ladies’ man like Hud? Hud spends his remaining free time trying to get under the skin of world-weary housekeeper Alma (Patricia Neal), who seems to be the only woman in town immune to his charms. But the brewing conflict between Homer and Hud comes to a head when the local veterinarian (Whit Bissell) delivers bad news about the family’s cattle herd. With pressure from Hud to sell the infected herd off to unsuspecting neighbors, will Homer be able to maintain his lifelong dedication to stoic morality – even if it means losing everything he’s worked for?

Patricia Neal (January 20, 1926 – August 8, 2010) was born Patsy Louise Neal in Packard, Kentucky, and grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. After studying drama at Northwestern University, she landed her first Broadway job as an understudy in The Voice of the Turtle. Her second play, Another Part of the Forest, earned her the 1946 Tony Award (the first year the awards were presented) for Best Featured Actress in a Play. She made her film debut in 1949’s John Loves Mary opposite Ronald Reagan. That same year Neal appeared in The Fountainhead and began an illicit affair with her married leading man, Gary Cooper. In the early 1950s she appeared in several films, including the classic scifi drama The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), before suffering a nervous breakdown over the end of her relationship with Cooper and returning to Broadway to star in a revival of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour. In 1953 she married British author Roald Dahl, with whom she would go on to have five children. Neal then starred in a string of hits, beginning with 1957’s A Face in the Crowd, directed by Elia Kazan; Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961; and finally Hud in 1963, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress as well as the New York Film Critics’, National Board of Review, and BAFTA awards. However, public success was mixed with private tragedy. In 1960 Neal and Dahl’s four-month-old son Theo was left with permanent brain damage after his baby carriage was struck by a New York taxicab. In 1962 their daughter Olivia died at age seven due to complications from the measles. Finally in 1965, while pregnant with her fifth child, Neal suffered three strokes in rapid succession and was in a coma for three weeks. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Lucy, but it was doubted that Neal would ever walk or talk again, much less return to acting. However, Neal made a triumphant recovery from her strokes, due in no small part to her husband’s strict rehabilitation regimen. She made her long-awaited return to acting in 1967’s The Subject Was Roses, for which she was again nominated for an Academy Award. She would go on to appear in a variety of film and television productions throughout the next four decades, publishing an autobiography, As I Am, in 1988. Patricia Neal died from lung cancer at her home in Edgartown, Massachusetts, on August 8, 2010, at the age of 84.

I already gushed about Hud in my review of Hombre (1967), the last of three collaborations between director Martin Ritt, cinematographer James Wong Howe, and star Paul Newman. Hud was the first movie where these three great artists came together, and while I haven’t seen their second film (1964’s The Outrage, a Western remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon), I’m willing to bet Hud is the best of the bunch. Then again, I have a hard time coming up with any film that is better directed, better filmed, or better acted than Hud. It’s a cinematic perfect storm. (more…)