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Old 09-20-2008
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Exclamation Classic Film 101

INDEX:

Post #2: The Birth of a Nation (1915), Nosferatu (1922), and Metropolis (1927)

Post #3: Little Caesar (1931) and The Public Enemy (1931)

Post #4: Dracula (1931) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)

Post #5: Frankenstein (1931) and The Mummy (1932)

Post #6: A Bill of Divorcement (1932) and Morning Glory (1933)

Post #7: It Happened One Night (1934)

Post #8: The Black Cat (1934) and The Raven (1935)

Post #9: Alice Adams (1935) and Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

Post #10: 'G'-Men (1935)

Post #11: The 39 Steps (1935) and Secret Agent (1936)

Post #12: Fury (1936)

Post #13: Mary of Scotland (1936)

Post #14: Stage Door (1937)

Post #15: Topper (1937)

Post #16: Captains Courageous (1937)

Post #17: Boys Town (1938)

Posts #18 and #19: Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)

Posts #20, #21, and #22: Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Post #23: Holiday (1938)

Post #24: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

Post #25: The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Women (1939)

Post #26: Gone with the Wind (1939)

Post #27: The Oklahoma Kid (1939)

Post #28: Each Dawn I Die (1939)

Post #29: The Roaring Twenties (1939)

Post #30: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Post #31: His Girl Friday (1940)

Post #32: Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

Post #33: Black Friday (1940)

Post #34: The Wolf Man (1941)

Post #35: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

Post #39: High Sierra (1941)

Posts #40 and #41: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Post #42: Citizen Kane (1941)

Posts #49 and #50: Casablanca (1942)

Post #51: Woman of the Year (1942)

Post #52: Keeper of the Flame (1942)

Post #53: Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Post #54: Hangmen Also Die! (1943)

Post #55: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Post #56: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Post #57 and #58: To Have and Have Not (1944)

Post #59 and #60: Since You Went Away (1944)

Post #61: The Lost Weekend (1945)

Post #62: Without Love (1945)

Post #63: Undercurrent (1946)

Post #64: Spellbound (1945)

Post #65: Notorious (1946)

Post #66: Great Expectations (1946)

Post #67: It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Post #68: The Best Years of our Lives (1946)

Post #69: The Killers (1946)

Post #74: Background on Val Lewton

Post#75: Cat People (1942)

Post #76: I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

Post #77: The Leopard Man (1943)

Post #78: The Seventh Victim (1943)

Post #79: The Ghost Ship (1943)

Post #80: The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

Post #81: The Body Snatcher (1945)

Post #82: Isle of the Dead (1945)

Post #83: Bedlam (1946)

Post #87: The Stranger (1946)

Post #88: The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Post #90: The Big Sleep (1946)

Post #91: Dark Passage (1947)

Post #92: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Post #93: Key Largo (1948)

Post #94: Rope (1948)

Post #95: The Third Man (1949)

Post #98: White Heat (1949)

Post #99: Adam's Rib (1949)

Post #100: All About Eve (1950)

Post #101: Rashomon (1950)

Post #105: A Place in the Sun (1951)

Post #107: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Post #108: The African Queen (1951)

Post #111: High Noon (1952)

Post #112: The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

Post #113: Pat and Mike (1952)

Post #114: Roman Holiday (1953)

Post #115: From Here to Eternity (1953)

Post #116: Stalag 17 (1953)

Post #117: Shane (1953)

Post #118: The Big Heat (1953)

Post #121: House of Wax (1953)

Post #122: Julius Caesar (1953)

Post #123: The Wild One (1953)

Post #124: On the Waterfront (1954)

Post #125: Background on the widescreen process (Video Included)

Post #126: The Caine Mutiny (1954)

Post #127: Dial M for Murder (1954)

Post #128: Rear Window (1954)

Post #129: Suddenly (1954)

Post #130: The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)

Post #131: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Post #132: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Post #133 and #134: Love Me or Leave Me (1955)

Posts #135 and #136: East of Eden (1955)

Post #137: Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Posts #138 and #139: Giant (1956)

Post #140: Killer's Kiss (1955)

Post #141: The Killing (1956)

Post #142: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Post #143: The Wrong Man (1956)

Post #144: Moby Dick (1956)

Posts #145 and #146: Peyton Place (1957)

Post #147: Throne of Blood (1957)

Posts #148 and #149: The Seventh Seal (1957)

Posts #150 and #151: Wild Strawberries (1957)

Posts #152 and #153: Paths of Glory (1957)

Posts #158 and #159: 12 Angry Men (1957)

Posts #160 and #161: A King in New York (1957)

Posts #162 and #163: Touch of Evil (1958)

Posts #164, #165, and #166: Vertigo (1958)

Posts #167 and #168: Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Posts #169 and #170: North by Northwest (1959)

Posts #171 and #172: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Posts #180-183: Ben-Hur (1959)

Posts #185 and #186: Spartacus (1960)

Posts #190, #191, and #192: The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Posts #194, #195, and #196: Psycho (1960)

Posts #220, #221, and #222: Inherit the Wind (1960)

Posts #223, #224, and #225: Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Post #233: One, Two, Three (1961)

Posts #234 and #235: The Children's Hour (1961)

Posts #238-#241: Lolita (1962)

Posts #242 and #243: Advise & Consent (1962)

Posts #244 and #245: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Posts #246 and #247: The Trial (1962)

Posts #248 and #249: Experiment in Terror (1962)

*****NEW THIS WEEK (May 7th)*****

Posts #256 and #257: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)



*****NEXT WEEK (May 14th)*****

Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962)


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Last edited by Bullitt68; 05-07-2010 at 12:47 PM.
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Old 09-20-2008
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Welcome to Classic Film 101. Before you read any further, I would like you to watch the following piece. In 1994, to commemorate 100 years of film, Turner Classic Movies edited together this wonderful piece of film history, aptly titled, “100 Years At The Movies.”


YouTube - 100 Years At The Movies

If you cannot name AT LEAST a quarter of the films shown in that highlight, then you desperately need this thread. For those of you who are classic film fans like myself, this series of threads will provide you with a time and place to discuss the great films that have captivated film fans and makers alike for generations, and for those of you who are film novices, these threads will expose you to some of the greatest cinematic accomplishments of all time.

So whether you’re a seasoned cinefile or whether you've never seen a black-and-white movie, it doesn’t matter. So long as you have the least bit of respect and admiration for the wonderful art form known as moviemaking, these reviews will hopefully be something for you to look forward to.

I begin with a film that is considered both one of the greatest films of all time as well as one of the most controversial: D.W. Griffith's 1915 silent Civil War epic The Birth of a Nation.

Now as I’m sure everybody knows (if you don't know, that's what this next part is for ) there wasn’t always sound in film. Movies began in 1894 as a novel invention courtesy of Thomas Edison, eventually coming to prominence thanks to the Lumiere Brothers and similar early visionaries. Eventually, technical advances were made to increase the maximum length of a film as well as the ability to inject music scores as well as sound effects in some cases, but there was no dialogue in film until The Jazz Singer in 1927 (the black-and-white film Lorraine Bracco is shown watching in Goodfellas). Thus, we had what was called the silent film, where, in place of dialogue, inserts called Intertitles were substituted in and the interactions between characters would be written out for the audience to read. While the art of acting was then limited to facial expressions and body language, huge advancements were able to be made with cinematography and editing, both of which are thanks to D.W. Griffith.


David Llewelyn Wark Griffith (a.k.a. D.W. Griffith) is one of the most important filmmakers ever. He is known today as The Father of the Narrative, and The Birth of a Nation was his masterpiece. He initially started out with the simple notion of perhaps one day being a playwright. As luck would have it, after having one of his stories turned down, he found himself acting in a film, and not long after that, he was directing films. In five short years, Griffith made over 400 short films, and with each one, he was gaining more and more experience, as well as becoming bolder and bolder with the camera. Griffith was a pioneer when it came to cinematography and editing, mastering cross-cutting (think of how you see the bank robbery in Heat while at the same time cutting to Al Pacino trying to get there in time to stop De Niro), tracking shots (think of Eli Wallach running through the cemetery at the end of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), long shots (think of the scene with Ryan O'Neal and Gay Hamilton walking through the forest in the early portion of Barry Lyndon) and close-ups (do you really need an example for this one?).

While the subject matter of The Birth of a Nation is quite controversial, the film was---and still is---revered for its technical brilliance, especially considering it was made in 1915, and while the films of today may be “better,” they’re possible because of D.W. Griffith.

The film was an adaptation of a book called The Clansmen (yes, that means the KKK) and the film chronicled the United States’ struggle through the Civil War and the subsequent Reconstruction. In fact, the three hour and seven minute epic is broken up into those two very parts. However, the interpretation of history in the second part is what brought down the violent hatred the film has since been victim to. As the story went in this film, the white men of the South came up with the idea of forming what is known today as the Ku Klux Klan in order to empower themselves. The flippant nature with which Griffith depicted racism still garners heated debate, but what it is about the film that has enabled it to be fresh in the minds of any and every person who considers themselves a classic film fan in the least is its significance in the history of film. Not only was it the highest grossing film of its time, bringing in ten millions dollars upon release, but it championed what has since dominated cinema: The feature. It was the longest film ever made up to that point, and with its success, many filmmakers started to gradually drift into making longer films as opposed to shorts, a trend which has continued right up to today.

In 1922, on the other side of the globe, German expressionist filmmaker Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (a.k.a. F.W. Murnau) was making the first ever Dracula adaptation. However, because he couldn’t secure the rights to Bram Stoker’s story, he simply changed the word “vampire” to “Nosferatu” and changed the vampire’s name from Count Dracula to Count Orlok (played by Max Schreck, which is a name that might be familiar to fans of the Batman films, in which German expressionist-lover Tim Burton payed homage to the man by giving Christopher Walken's character in Batman Returs the same name). Still to this day one of the best if not THE best vampire films, Nosferatu is a masterwork of horror. The story of the film is as follows:

A man by the name of Hutter leaves his girlfriend, Ellen, to accompany a rich man named Count Orlok to the site of a castle, which Orlok plans to purchase. Because of the possible notoriety and prosperity stemming from having such a noble man the likes of Count Orlok living in their town, Hutter is sent to show him the proper hospitality (he's getting paid a handsome fee, too, of course). It is while at the castle that Hutter starts discovering quite the multitude of peculiarities on Orlok’s part, eventually coming to the realization that the man is not a man but is, in fact, a vampire.

The films itself is broken up into five acts.

Act One: Hutter meets up with Orlok to get him to purchase a home in their town.

Act Two: Hutter, now bunking with Orlok, begins to notice the strangeness of his roommate. This is also where, after having awakened from his first night's sleep at Orlok's, Hutter notices the two distinct bitemarks on his neck, which he attributes to mosquitoes. Hutter's girlfriend, Ellen, also begins exhibiting strange behavior back home, fearing for the life of her beloved. Act Two ends with Hutter investigating the grounds and coming across Orlok's coffin, which scares the shit out of him to the point where he high-tails it out of there.

Act Three: Safe from Orlok, Hutter has been brought to the hospital by farmers, who found him after his escape from Orlok, who, meanwhile, sneaks onto a ship destined for Hutter's home. Of course, Orlok proceeds to kill everyone aboard.



Act Four: After having massacred the ship, Orlok takes a coffin for sleep and heads into town after Ellen. The ship is discovered and the deaths aboard are chalked up wrongly to the plague. People are now believing that the bite marks that signify Orlok's feeding are actually indicative of illness, and the town is now being warned about stopping the spread of the Great Death.

Act Five: The final act consists of Orlok meeting his demise. He has time enough to kill Ellen, but it is at the expense of his own life, and as he died, so did the fear of the Great Death, which, unbeknownst to the town, was one and the same.

To this day, Nosferatu is still one of the best horror movies out there. The eerie castle set, the frequent use of darkness and shadows, and Count Orlok himself all lend credibility to Murnau's calling the film a symphony of horror.

*FYI: There was a film made in 2000 called Shadow of the Vampire that depicted a fictional account of the making of Nosferatu. Its stars were John Malkovich as F.W. Murnau and Willem Dafoe in his Oscar-nominated (and Oscar-robbed, IMO) performance as Max Schreck/Count Orlok. It's a great film and would be well worth the watch subsequent to your viewing of this film.

Lastly, we remain in Germany but travel five years ahead to 1927, where we come to Fritz Lang’s greatest achievement in his silent film career (not to mention one of the best science fiction films ever made): Metropolis.

No matter what film you think of, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Close Encounters of the Third Kind to The Abyss to I, Robot and everything before, between, and after, if it’s science fiction, you can bet your last dollar you can find within the film traces of Metropolis.

And, oddly enough, despite the film having been made in 1927, it can still be considered a futuristic sci-fi film today since it’s setting is the year 2026. The film depicts the struggle between the owners (the rich men who live above ground) and the workers (the poor men who live and work underground). The sets and the cinematography remain breathtaking even to this day, and it just goes to show you that you can still produce brilliance even without all the help filmmakers get today with SFX and CGI and all the other goofy computer crap that’s in existence today.

Some stills from the film:



The landscape of the futuristic society.



The workers about to begin their shift underground.





The robot, Maria.
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Old 09-20-2008
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In 1927, when Warner Brothers released The Jazz Singer, there was an insane uproar. Audiences were going crazy. . .Someone talking in a movie? And you can hear and understand them? BRILLIANT!

As soon as Warner Brothers released the film, they knew it was the beginning of a new era. Having a monopoly on talkies, they began the 1930's as the top studio. While in later years, Universal would become the home of the horror film and MGM would be the king of the musicals, Warner Brothers will always be the king of the gangster films, and in 1931, they released two titanic films: Little Caesar and The Public Enemy.

Both Little Caesar and The Public Enemy were fortunate to have wonderful directors, the director for the former being Mervyn LeRoy, who is the man behind such classics as I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Random Harvest, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, Mister Roberts (which would team him with the star of The Public Enemy, James Cagney), the 1956 horror film The Bad Seed (possibly the birth of the creepy little girl hallmark in horror films), and the 1959 James Stewart crime saga The FBI Story.

In 1931, though, he was no Fritz Lang. He had worked in both silent and sound films, but Little Caesar was his coming out party. Working with a screenplay adapted from William R. Burnett, LeRoy would turn out one of the best gangster films ever made. Along with having a great screenplay, LeRoy was also lucky to have Edward G. Robinson playing the title character, Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello, a.k.a. Little Caesar.

Robinson had acted in a few films prior to his role in Little Caesar, but never had he had the material he had here nor had he ever experienced the same kind of support. With a great screenplay, a great director, and a great cast, he was in a very enviable position, and out of it, he was able to turn in a legendary performance.

Rico, a.k.a. Little Caesar, is perhaps the scrappiest character to ever appear on the screen. Unquestionably the precursor to Joe Pesci's Tommy DeVito, Robinson had a field day with the scruffy Rico. Standing short in stature and having not much to his name, Rico had his eyes set on Chicago, and with his childhood friend Joe Massara, played here by Douglas Fairbanks Jr., headed out with the hopes of rising to the top of the underworld.

When Rico and Joe arrived in Chicago, they ended up traveling divergent paths, and while Rico's rise to prominence in the underworld is successful (all things considered) his friend doesn't come along for the ride. Joe always had the, in Rico's mind, crazy notion of returning to his dancing roots, and when he falls in love with a dancer named Olga, he wants nothing to do with Rico and his life of crime. Things come to a head when Rico finds himself having been betrayed by his friend, who called the cops on him. In what is no doubt one of the most iconic images in film, Rico moves towards Joe and Olga, the lovebirds who have just brought the police down on him, but much to his surprise (not to mention the surprise of his croney) Rico finds himself unable to pull the trigger.

Forced to flee following a shootout with the cops, Rico goes underground. Despite being one of the premier bootleggers, Rico himself has always stayed away from alcohol, but now, having hit rock bottom, he lives in a flophouse and is a dirty drunk. As he is wallowing in his own shame, he hears two men reading an interview in the day's paper with the chief detective, a man whom Rico has always bested. In the interview, he calls Rico a coward, and in a last-ditch attempt to restore his dignity, Rico calls him up and dares him to come get him.

Following a shootout, Rico is hit, and as he lies dying, utters the now famous, "Is this the end of Rico?"

The film is still today revered as one of the all-time great crime films, and it paved the way for subsequent crime/gangster films. Shortly after Little Caesar’s release in early 1931, Warner Brothers would release a second gangster film, this one also proving to be the coming out party for another young actor, this one named James Cagney.

Three months following the release of Little Caesar, Warners Brothers celebrated the coming of spring with another breath of fresh air, this one going by the name James Cagney.

While Edward G. may have come first, Cagney will forever be his superior in the crime genre. In fact, he may be the best period (he is in my eyes, that's for sure). Cagney is one of the most charismatic men to ever grace the screen, and he first took the world by storm as bootlegger Tom Powers in William Wellman's The Public Enemy.

When shooting began on the film, Cagney was originally playing the second lead, but after Wellman watched Cagney and then-lead Edward Woods, he decided to switch the two and make Cagney the lead. Undoubtedly one of the wisest decisions in film, Cagney went on to completely dominate the screen, forever immortalizing both himself and the film in the scene where he mashes a grapefruit into the face of his on-screen girlfriend, played by Mae Clarke.


The film is about two boyhood friends who start out getting hired by local crime boss Paddy Ryan, and the two rise out from that beginning to big shots in the bootlegging industry, especially Cagney, who proves to be as tough a customer as there ever was.

It's not all fun and games for Cagney's Tom Powers, though. At home, he cares for his loving mother while at the same time always at odds with his older brother. Mike Powers, unlike his younger brother Tom, makes an honest living, and he takes every opportunity to let Tom know it. Having come back from the war, Mike is as cynical as ever, and he hates to see his brother on top of the world with all of his blood money.

In the end, the "crime doesn't pay" message hits home hard when Cagney is bested by a rival gang. Easily one of the most powerful endings in film, Cagney is dropped off at his house, still in hospital bandages, dead. Mike, discovering the body of his younger brother, is tasked with having to break the news to his mother, who is out of her mind with joy at the prospect of her youngest son finally returning from the hospital.

These two films are hallmarks in the crime genre and the first of what is now known as the gangster film. Both Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney would have it rough trying to shed the tough guy images they created on the screen, and even though at the time they may have resented it, they are now and forever will be icons of the crime genre and will continue to live on as two of the best tough guys to ever appear in film.
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As I discussed last week, the 1930’s saw the emergence of the talking film. Following the success of Warner Brothers’ 1927 film The Jazz Singer---the first film to ever have dialogue---everybody started to shift away from the silent films and begin to exclusively work with talking films. Out of this transition came Universal Pictures' attempt to give Nosferatu some competition in the horror genre. In 1931, Universal produced the first true adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire story: Dracula.

Cast as the debonair Count Dracula was Bela Lugosi. A Hungarian actor, Lugosi was already very familiar with the character of Count Dracula at the time of filming, having played the character on Broadway. However, despite his success on the stage, initially, there was some battling over who would be cast as the vampire in the film adaptation. Lugosi wanted the part very badly, eventually winning it (it helped that he was being paid very little). Despite all of their initial skepticism, Lugosi would go on to perform what is still to this day considered the definitive Dracula performance. Everything about his portrayal of Dracula oozed a kind of coolness contrary to the outright terror his subsequent horror rival Boris Karloff would display. Lugosi was elegant, suave, and at the same time, chilling. Even if he didn’t have any lines, him just looking into the camera was enough to send chills down your spine. In fact, it is reported that many audience members fainted at the early screenings of the film because they were so terrified.



Seeing as how the source material for both Dracula and Nosferatu was the same, there are numerous similarities; however, there are also quite a lot of differences, the biggest being the introduction of the vampire hunter, Professor Van Helsing. This adds a fresh dimension to the tale, particularly the scene where Van Helsing attempts to catch Lugosi's reflection in a mirror, prompting Lugosi to lash out and shatter the mirror. Very intense scene, probably my favorite in the film.

Dracula was wildly popular, and with the excessive word of mouth, people poured into the theaters, prompting Universal to continue to make what are now referred to as “Monster” movies. Where Warner Brothers had the gangster film, it now appeared that Universal had the horror film. Movies like Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, etc., continued to be made to feed the desire of audiences to be scared out of their wits. Lugosi himself would go on to become one of the legendary figures of the horror genre.

One year after his performance in Dracula, Lugosi returned to the horror genre, this time not as the smooth, sophisticated Count Dracula, but instead, as a mad scientist out to prove man’s kinship with the ape. The film was Murders in the Rue Morgue, made by Universal in 1932 and based on Poe’s short story of the same name. Something interesting to note: Before this film, Lugosi was set to play Dr. Frankenstein in Universal’s 1931 film, but then it was decided that he should play the monster and he refused, so he was dropped from the film. Also dropped from the film was its original director---the man who would direct Murders in the Rue Morgue.

The film is quite faithful to the short story---which has since been considered one of the first if not THE first detective stories---but because it was a short story, more characters/character development was added, and the climactic ending was altered.

The film is set in 19th century Paris and begins with two couples taking in a show. I don’t know about anybody else, but I am always reminded of the House of Wax in the film of the same name. Freaky/scary displays abound, the couples walk around the carnival to each sideshow, among them being the display of Lugosi’s character, Dr. Mirakle. Mirakle’s display is a gorilla named Erik, whom he introduces as “nothing but a human.” His talk of evolution angers some of the audience members, but it intrigues Camille, one half of one of the two couples we’ve been following through the carnival. As the crowd dissipates, Camille and her fiancée, medical student Pierre, go up to the cage where Erik is housed. Camille gives him her bonnet, but when Pierre tries to take it back from Erik, he is choked and the bonnet is ruined in the struggle. Mirakle offers to replace the bonnet provided Camille tells him her name and where she lives. Positively spooked, Pierre rushes Camille out of the tent and away from Mirakle. . .or so he thinks. Mirakle has them followed so as to discover where Camille lives.

On his off hours from the carnival, Mirakle is conducting an experiment to find a suitable mate for Erik. To go about this, he abducts young women and injects Erik’s blood into their bloodstream. Several of his “patients” have died, and being the dedicated student he is, Pierre, who studies the bodies in the local morgue, begins noticing a pattern with the incoming bodies: They all have strange discoloration in their blood.

As the film rushes to its climax, Mirakle has come to Camille’s house. After he is satisfied that Pierre has gone, he tries to get Camille to agree to come down to his carriage. He is turned down and hustled out of the house, but determined to have Camille, he sends Erik upstairs to bring her down. At the same time, Pierre realizes that the marks in the blood of all of the dead women are ape blood, and after this deduction, he deduces further that Mirakle is conducting experiments with female subjects, and knowing his affection for Camille, rushes back in hopes of saving her.

When he arrives, a crowd has gathered as piercing screams come from the upstairs room. After Pierre and the local police break down the door, they enter the room only to find it empty, no sign of Camille nor her mother. Convinced that Pierre is crazy, the policemen present decide that it would be best that he come down to the station house with them. While he tries to convince them that his fiancée has been kidnapped, one of the men in the room opens the slide to the chimney and finds the mother stuffed inside, clutched in her fingers what Pierre describes as “not human hair.”

With renewed credibility, Pierre leads the police to Mirakle’s makeshift laboratory. As they are trying to break in, the chaos around them leads Erik to turn on his master. After strangling Mirakle, he grabs Camille and flees. A chase ensues, the police tracking Erik as he runs across the roofs of the town with Camille in his arm, this coming before the legendary King Kong film that would come the following year.

Eventually, Erik is shot down and Pierre saves his fiancée. While it’s, shall we say convenient, that Pierre is the one to save the day, the film is quite chilling and definitely groundbreaking. Such free discussion of evolution was particularly striking, and the violence in the film definitely pushed the envelope. In fact, it was originally close to an hour and a half in length, but the film was eventually cut down to an hour and stripped of a lot of its initial brutality.

Great sets and atmospheric cinematography, including very eerie lighting, highlight the film, which I consider to be not only one Lugosi’s most underrated films, but one of the most underrated of all of the early horror films.



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Following the success of Universal Pictures’ 1931 horror classic Dracula, the studio began turning out what we now know today as the Monster movies. While Warner Brothers had the gangster film, Universal was the proud kings of horror, and they couldn’t possibly have followed Dracula up with a better film: The classic 1931 horror tale that introduced the world to the ultra-terrifying Boris Karloff: Frankenstein.

While the story of the film was loosely taken from the Mary Shelley story, the film itself was heavily influenced by the Expressionist films from Germany. This brought a magnificent atmosphere to the film, and that coupled with the sheer terror of Boris Karloff as “The Monster” made for one hell of a scary film.

The plot is rather simple: A scientist and his assistant piece together a man’s body and bring it to life with the brain of a murderer. It’s a nice sci-fi story, but as soon as the creature comes to life, the film transcends your run-of-the-mill sci-fi film and becomes a wonderful horror film. When the monster raises his hand while the thunder is crashing outside and Dr. Frankenstein starts going nuts. . .there just aren’t many moments in film more iconic and memorable than that.

Unfortunately for Dr. Frankenstein, it’s not a happy ending for him. Bringing the monster to life wasn’t the end of his journey but rather the beginning, because after he is brought to life, the monster does what he is programmed to do thanks to the criminal brain inside of him: Kill. He is stronger than five men and knows nothing but hate and anger, and while Dr. Waldman tries to stop him, the monster rages through and escapes the castle and into the world.

It’s outside, away from the castle, that possibly the most controversial scene in the film takes place. At the time of the film’s release, there was included at the end a scene where the monster encounters a little girl by a lake.



It looks as if he’s bonding with a human as they both throw flowers into the lake. When he runs out of things to throw, though, the monster, not knowing any better, picks up the little girl and hurls her into the lake. At the time of its release, that was a VERY controversial scene and the studio was forced to cut the scene from the film. It has since been restored and is included in VHS and DVD released of the film, but when it was making the rounds in the '30s, that scene was not included.

The film was hugely successful upon its release and spawned many sequels/remakes, the best no doubt being the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein, which some people even prefer to the original. Not only did Universal have another hit horror film, they also had a new star, and even though he wasn’t credited in Frankenstein, everybody would know his name forever afterward: KARLOFF.

Following the success of Frankenstein, Karloff next appeared in the classic tale The Mummy, which chronicled the rebirth of the mummy Imhotep, played here by Karloff. He is brought back to life after a sacred chest is opened and a spell is cast, and after the initial expedition in Egypt, Imhotep returns in hopes of reuniting with his lost love, the also dead Princess Anck-es-en-Amon.

While The Mummy isn’t as much of a horror film as Dracula or Frankenstein were, Karloff’s presence is enough to make anybody afraid. As I talked about in my last thread, many audience members were reported to have fainted during the initial screenings of Dracula in part because of how terrifying Bela Lugosi was. Karloff was able to have the same impact on audiences, and the close-ups of him in this film as he used his powers make a lasting impression on anybody.



Now I’m going to be honest: I’m not exactly crazy about this movie. That’s not to say it’s a bad film, because it absolutely isn’t. However, like I said: It wasn’t that much of a horror film. There were times where it was very dull, the saving grace of course being Karloff. I think Frankenstein was the MUCH better film, but they’re both great examples of the presence Karloff had on screen, and with Frankenstein and The Mummy each coming out within a time-frame of a little over a year, everybody knew that, even though Lugosi was still the man, that there was a new terror in the horror genre.

And because they were brought to my attention in previous threads, I’m going to post for you all to watch two reviews of each film from CineMassacre.


Frankenstein:




The Mummy:


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Old 09-20-2008
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Of my favorite actors, only two people---Robert De Niro and Steve McQueen---supersede the wonderful talent that is Katharine Hepburn. If ever you are having a conversation with someone and you are told that someone other than Katharine Hepburn is the greatest actress, please do me a favor and smack them across the face. It’s okay to have different favorite actresses, but in terms of discussing the best, there is none better than Katharine Hepburn.

After receiving her degree in college in 1928, Katharine Hepburn debuted on Broadway in Philip Dunning’s Night Hostess. Her role? "The other hostess.” Not exactly a breakthrough

Her real breakthrough would come four years later, when, after performing a particularly athletic stunt on stage, an RKO scout talked her into doing a screen test for an upcoming film entitled A Bill of Divorcement. The producer of the film---the legendary David O. Selznick himself---didn’t care for her (he was afraid audiences wouldn’t take to her). Luckily for her (and all of us film fans) the director of the film, George Cukor---a man who would become one of Hepburn’s closest friends and most frequent collaborator---disagreed with Selznick and cast her despite his objection. This would mark the first of ten films Hepburn and Cukor would make together, as well as marking Hepburn’s film debut.

The film starred John Barrymore and Billie Burke, with Hepburn playing their daughter. After more than a decade in a mental institution, Barrymore escapes and returns home, where he finds his now-adult daughter and his about-to-be-remarried wife, both of whom are confounded as to how to receive him.



Before his return, Hepburn had been told that he’d suffered from shell-shock in the war. Upon his return, however, she learns that it wasn’t just shell-shock, but rather insanity brought on by shell-shock, and on top of that, learns that there is a history of mental illness on her dad’s side of the family. As Burke comes to terms with what she thinks is the right decision in the situation, Hepburn comes to terms with her future. Engaged to be married, Hepburn must now decide whether or not it would be right to bring another life into the world knowing that there’s not only the possibility that she could become mentally unstable in subsequent years but that her child would risk the same fate, as well.



The film is definitely dated, and at a running time of only 70 minutes and the action taking place on only a couple of sets, it may seem like a very small film, but it’s one of those films where, while you’re watching, it feels much longer. There’s just so much packed into the film that it’s hard to really grasp it until you watch it. The powerful performances and the moving ending propel the film to much more than just a neat and tidy melodrama and rather takes it to the level of a truly profound film.

Following the success of A Bill of Divorcement, RKO signed Hepburn to an (at that time) high-paying contract. She would follow up A Bill of Divorcement with the forgettable-but-still-good Christopher Strong, that film followed by her first Oscar-winning performance in Morning Glory.

Remade by Sidney Lumet in 1958, this original version with Katharine Hepburn, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Adolphe Menjou remains infinitely superior. The film sees Hepburn as the naïve wannabe actress Eva Lovelace. Having been a sensation in her small-town back home, Eva, now stage-struck, makes her way to New York determined to be a star. Her first day there, she makes her way to the Louis Easton Casting Agency. Easton, played by Menjou, is currently looking for an actor to play a bit part in his new play. That actor is played here by Sir C. Aubrey Smith. Hepburn begs him to train her, promising to repay him as soon as she gets some money. She also tries to convince Easton and his top writer, played here by Fairbanks, to cast her in their upcoming play.



She is cast aside, though, as just a wide-eyed ignoramus (which, to be fair, she was) but not before making a mark on Fairbanks, who is immediately smitten with her. As the months go by, the play is a success. For Hepburn, though, she is anything but successful. Several months subsequent to their initial meeting, Hepburn and Smith meet again.



Hepburn’s condition is obvious to Smith, who brings her along with him to a party held by one Louis Easton. There, Hepburn proceeds to get drunk, perform both the “To be or not to be” and “Romeo, Romeo” speeches while intoxicated, and eventually sleep with the womanizing Easton

Profoundly embarrassed, Hepburn continues on, eventually becoming an understudy for Fairbanks’ dream project’s leading lady. Fairbanks always had half a mind to cast Hepburn, if for no other reason because he hated the woman currently playing the part, so when she drops out on opening night, it’s a scramble for Menjou and Fairbanks, the latter convincing the former that their true leading lady had been backstage all along.

On the film, Katharine Hepburn said the following:

"In true Hollywood fashion, Eva Lovelace does become a star, and she made Katharine Hepburn a star, too."

It was the first of twelve nominations and four wins for Hepburn and was the film that officially announced her arrival in the world of film.
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Old 09-20-2008
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The history of film is laden with examples of commentary on social problems/situations. In the 1930’s, America was in the midst of The Great Depression, and while films like Bonnie and Clyde would come along later to show the dark side of the depression, Frank Capra cast a surprisingly bright ray of sunshine on the times with his 1934 comedy-drama It Happened One Night, starring two titans of the film industry, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.



At the time this film was made in 1934, Frank Capra had already directed over twenty films. However, all of them combined didn’t match the success that would come with this film. If you would’ve told anybody on the set that the film would be successful, though, I guarantee each and every person would’ve broken down laughing.

This was not a film that a lot of people were fighting to be in. Robert Montgomery turned down the role of Peter, and Myrna Loy, Margaret Sullavan, Carole Lombard, Constance Bennet, and Bette Davis all either turned down the role or had problems with the studio and were unable to participate.

When it finally came down to Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, the two were both unhappy with the screenplay. Already having gone through innumerable changes (Myrna Loy even said after the film’s release that the screenplay she initially turned down might as well have been a completely different film) both Gable and Colbert had little faith in the film's merit. Capra was able to lighten the mood on the set, but that’s not to say that the rest of the shooting went without a hitch. Due to the enforcing of the new production code in Hollywood, a lot of the more sexual scenes had to be made tamer, including Gable putting up a sheet to divide his bed and Colbert’s (the sheet would be referred to in the film as the “Walls of Jericho”).

The plot of the film is not an unfamiliar one: A spoiled rich girl is trying to disobey Daddy by marrying someone he disapproves of, and when he tries to reel her back in, she runs off. She decides to hop a bus to New York City. There is where she meets the snide former reporter Peter Warne, played by Gable.



Recognizing her immediately, he decides to make her an offer: Either she gives him the exclusive on her story or he calls Daddy and she’s fucked.

Obviously, she agrees, and we then get to watch the two go through adventure after adventure, from pretending to be husband-and-wife to being forced to hitchhike and having their ride make off with their belongings and finally to them realizing their love for each other.

Of course, the most famous scene in the film---and one of the most famous in all of cinema---is the aforementioned hitchhiking scene. Mr. Know-It-All Gable decides to show Little Miss Princess Colbert how to properly hitchhike. When he fails to stop a single car, he gives up in frustration and shame. To add insult to injury, Colbert is able to stop the first car she sees by flashing some leg in one of the most memorable scenes in all of cinema history.



It Happened One Night is still recognized as one of the all-time great romantic-comedies, even being voted as the #3 romantic-comedy by the American Film Institute’s recent “Ten Top Ten” list, which ranked the ten best films in ten various genres. The film was incredibly successful, both commercially and critically, and it was the first film to win all of the five major Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Director.

Of course, I prefer the Hepburn/Grant and Hepburn/Tracy films; nevertheless, this is truly one of the best romantic-comedies of all time. Frank Capra really is the master of the feel-good film, and even during such a dark period in our history as the Great Depression, he was able to turn out an incredibly upbeat, enjoyable film that, even if it was only for a moment, lifted the spirits of an entire generation of moviegoers.
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Old 09-20-2008
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If you’re familiar with stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, then you’ll know that by 1934, both men were bona-fide stars in the horror genre. Having given such memorable performances in their respective breakthrough films, Dracula and Frankenstein, the two titans of terror would now for the first time be pitted against each other, the film being Universal Pictures’ The Black Cat.

The film reflects the time it was released perfectly. The film world was in the midst of a large upswing in horror films, particularly the stories of Edgar Allan Poe.

The Black Cat didn’t have much to do with Poe's original story, but that’s hardly a bother when you are finding yourself captivated by the fact that you’re seeing Lugosi and Karloff together on screen, rivals in character and rivals in real life.

Bela Lugosi plays Dr. Vitus Werdegast, a Hungarian doctor who is just returning after having been imprisoned as a POW. He has a score to settle with Hjalmar [pronounced “Yal-Mar”] Poelzig, played by Karloff. Karloff was the man who left Lugosi and his fellow soldiers for dead. Now in search of revenge, Lugosi must hold off on his plan while the characters Peter and Joan Alison, a young couple on their honeymoon, are guests of Karloff’s.

Following their train ride, Lugosi and the couple are in a traffic accident due to the severe weather (bad weather in a horror film?) They all make their way to Karloff’s castle, which adds a layer of tension that IMO makes the film work as well as it does.

The Alison’s of course recognize the creepiness of Karloff’s character as well as the fact that there’s something going on under the surface between Karloff and Lugosi, though they couldn’t possibly comprehend just what it is.





The chess game (literally) between the two makes for very exciting acting, and the wonderful sets and the atmospheric cinematography make this a true horror classic. What is most memorable about the film, though, is the end scene where Lugosi finally exacts his revenge. Voted #68 on the 101 Scariest Movie Moments countdown, the scene sees Lugosi tie Karloff up and skin him alive.



Even now, more than 70 years later, the scene has all the power it had its initial release.

The film became Universal’s biggest box-office success of 1934, and the success would lead to Lugosi and Karloff teaming for another five films, the second being the 1935 story The Raven, based on Poe’s legendary poem.

In the opinion of many film historians and critics, The Raven is Lugosi’s greatest performance outside of Dracula, and in my opinion, it's his greatest performance including Dracula.

In The Raven, Lugosi is so wicked but he's so psychotic that he's having the time of his life, and it makes for marvelous viewing. Lugosi's character is a surgeon and Poe-fanatic. He’s so obsessed with Poe that he has his own personal chamber of Poe horrors, included in which are a pit and pendulum as well as a room fit with walls that crush its occupants.

The actual plot of the film is very similar to another film released the same year, Peter Lorre's Mad Love, wherein a surgeon falls in love with a patient following an operation. Here in The Raven, though, the love is reciprocated, albeit for a short time and tremendously misguided. That doesn’t stop Lugosi from doing everything in his power to have his beloved, in this film that woman being played by Irene Ware, who is a dancer operated on by Lugosi.

Also operated on by Lugosi is the criminal Karloff. Having just broken out of prison, Karloff seeks out Lugosi to perform plastic surgery on him.



What results is one of the best shock moments in film history, IMO up there with Lon Chaney's unmasking in The Phantom of the Opera.

The film is a tremendous work of art and IMO their best pairing next to The Black Cat. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a success when it was released (neither, for that matter, was Mad Love) and the genre experienced a dropoff in the following years until Universal's enormous 1941 smash The Wolf Man.

Lugosi and Karloff were far from done, though, seeing as how they went on to star in such films as The Invisible Ray and Black Friday together, but the horror genre would never be as high-profile as it was when Lugosi and Karloff first came on the scene.
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Old 09-20-2008
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I’ve got quite the juxtaposition of films this time. First up is one of Katharine Hepburn’s most successful films, Alice Adams, followed by a monumental flop, Sylvia Scarlett.

Now in case you don’t know, I’ll outline the tumultuous chronology of Hepburn’s career in the 1930s. Right out of the starting gate, Hepburn was a star. She debuted with A Bill of Divorcement, followed by the good-but-forgettable Christopher Strong as well as her first Oscar-winning performance in Morning Glory.

Subsequent to Morning Glory, Hepburn was a huge star, and in the same year, she acted in Little Women, which was a monstrous hit and box-office record-breaker.

Little Women (1933 film - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Quote:
Much rested on the slender shoulders of Little Women. Hollywood wanted to see if an adapted literary classic could strike box-office gold. Jo March and her sisters nimbly shouldered the load. Directed by George Cukor, this charming 1933 version of Louisa May Alcott's novel won overwhelming support (plus an Oscar for Best Adaption Screenplay). It also looks and sound its best in years via this new digital transfer from restored fine-grain film elements and optical audio tracks. All gawky tomboyishness and spunk, Katharine Hepburn is Jo, the center of the Civil War-era tale of heart and hearth (revisited in 1949 and 1994 versions).
Unfortunately for Hepburn, the next seven years from 1934 to 1940 would consist of eight flops, including Sylvia Scarlett.

But more about that later. First, we have to discuss Alice Adams, a Booth Tarkington story adapted by George Stevens, the cinematographer turned master director. The film co-starred Fred MacMurray and Fred Stone, but that doesn’t matter. Make no mistake about it: This film is all about Katharine Hepburn. For anyone who has seen Pretty in Pink, if you want to see a better telling of that story and a performance a thousand times the magnitude of Molly Ringwald’s, then watch this.

Hepburn plays the title character Alice Adams, a poor girl who just wants to fit in. When we enter the story, she is trying to pick out a corsage at a local flower shop in preparation for the biggest party of the year. There’s no way she can afford the orchids or the gardenias, so she plays it off to the clerk that she’s dissatisfied and leaves. We, the audience, get to follow, and we see what is my personal favorite shot of the film: Hepburn picking flowers for a homemade corsage, the camera panning and encompassing a sign that reads, “DO NOT PICK THE FLOWERS.” So simple and yet so effective.

Satisfied with her corsage of picked violets, she then gets her [reluctant] brother to be her date for the party. Everybody who’s anybody is attending the party, and Alice has to make an appearance despite having considerably less money than the other guests, despite wearing the same dress as last year, despite having a homemade corsage, and despite having her brother escort her.

The set-up for the party is masterful and the party itself is, as well. Watching her at the party, it’s all you can do not to reach into the screen, take Alice by the shoulders, and tell her that it’s going to be all right. It’s just so heart-wrenching to watch, but at the same time, her performance is so fantastic that you don’t dare look away.



While sitting out the dance, Hepburn kicks her ugly bouquet away in shame. However, her future Prince Charming, played here by Fred MacMurray, notices it on the floor beside her and returns it to her. They proceed to dance and Alice is promptly swept off her feet. Her happiness doesn’t stay long, for when MacMurray finds her brother shooting dice in the back with the band---the black band, mind you---she thinks her chances of being seen as respectable are dashed, so in overdramatic fashion, she has her brother take her home, where she goes right upstairs and cries.

As I said, my favorite shot is her picking the flowers in the beginning; however, the shot of her crying, the tears streaking her face while the rain streaks the window, is truly the best shot of the film, and only through the eyes of a former cinematographer can such beauty be captured on the screen.

Although she couldn’t possibly explain why, MacMurray is determined to continue seeing her. Too ashamed to have him see the inside of her house and meet her family, they either go out to eat or sit out on the front porch.



That is, until he finally gets her to agree to a formal dinner with her whole family present.



The dinner is a disaster, though, and it ends with the two breaking up in a superbly sad scene but done wonderfully by Hepburn. A smile was plastered on her face no matter the circumstances, and here, in what is arguably the worst day of her life, she never stops smiling.

The end of the film was too tacky for my taste (in fact, it was added on later in shooting to give the film a happier, upbeat “fairy tale” ending) but it’s not enough to bring the film down any. It really is a masterpiece. It was nominated for Best Actress (Hepburn lost to Bette Davis, who said later that she believed she didn’t deserve the award and that it should’ve gone to Hepburn) and Best Picture (lost to Mutiny on the Bounty), and while I would’ve given Hepburn the nod for Best Actress, the worst part is that Stevens wasn’t even nominated for Best Director, an award he not only should’ve been nominated for, but IMO, should’ve won.

Back to the flops:

From 1934 to 1940, Hepburn had a string of flops, the only bright spot being Alice Adams in 1935.

To quote Hepburn:

“Somehow I just seemed to irritate people no matter what I played.”

The flops included Spitfire, The Little Minister, Break of Hearts, Sylvia Scarlett, Mary of Scotland (I can’t understand how this wasn’t well-received considering how fantastic it is), A Woman Rebels, Quality Street, and as crazy as it sounds today, Bringing Up Baby.

Her 1937 film Stage Door wasn’t a flop, but it was no Alice Adams, either (I actually think it’s better, but that’s for another day).

The flop of interest today is Sylvia Scarlett, which re-teamed Hepburn and George Cukor for the third time, the first teaming A Bill of Divorcement, the second Little Women. They were also teamed up for the first of four films they would make with Cary Grant. A former circus acrobat, Grant had been acting for years but had yet to become the star he would eventually turn out to be. Here, he played a smooth-talking Cockney con-man named Jimmy Monkley, who meets up with a man and his son---or at least, who he thinks is his son. In reality, the boy named Sylvester Scarlett is in actuality Sylvia Scarlett, played by Katharine Hepburn.



As a child, Hepburn would always play with her three brothers, and being the tomboy she was, decided that being a girl was, to quote her, “a bore,” so in the summer of her eleventh year, she cut off her hair and called herself Jimmy.

Eighteen years later, she found herself once again masquerading as a boy. The story follows Hepburn and her father as they flee to England from France, where her father is to be charged for embezzlement. Already poor, the two lose their last hope for money: French lace her father is attempting to smuggle. Aboard the ship that will take them away from France, Grant rats them out to customs, and as soon as they’re about to confront him, before they know it, the three of them decide to become partners.

The rest of the film consists of Hepburn trying not to let on she’s a woman, despite falling in love with a man, played here by Brian Aherne. They get sick of the con game so they team up with a maid who Hepburn’s father falls in love with and become a performing troupe.
It’s not the greatest film by any means, but it’s very underrated and certainly deserved more praise upon release.

To quote Hepburn:

“It was meant to be funny. Trouble was nobody laughed. Today the movie is something of a cult classic. Where were you, audience, when we needed you?”

Well, better late than never. Sylvia Scarlett is one of the best examples of what I consider to be a hidden gem.
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Old 09-20-2008
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Following the success of The Public Enemy, James Cagney found himself acting in several crime films, including Smart Money, The Picture Snatcher, and The Mayor of Hell. Even though he grew to resent his being typecast as a gangster, always favoring his musical side, it’s the cocky tough-guy we all know and love, and here, he not only gets to play that character. . .he gets a badge, too.

Even though Warner Brothers’ gangster films were wildly popular, there were reservations from the public about the way they glorified the gangsters and the lifestyle. Not wanting to jeopardize their best genre, Warner Bros decided to make the same films and just cast the stars as good guys.

Here, we have James Cagney playing an idealistic criminal attorney named James “Brick” Davis. The opening scene is vintage Cagney as he punches out a potential client after he suggests Brick lend a helping hand to the local criminal element.

As much as he’d like to forget his past---his being taken in by the local mob kingpin and his education being paid for by said kingpin---it’s something Brick carries with him all the way from the streets he grew up on to the offices of the FBI.

What makes him want to join the FBI is when his old friend---who happens to be a fed---offers him a spot on his team. Soon after Brick refuses, he sees in the paper that his friend was gunned down by the gangster Danny Leggett, who used to work for Mac and who Brick knows well. Seeking vengeance, Brick leaves his law books and joins the FBI.



The training scenes are a little dumb---especially to us MMA fans---as we watch Cagney practicing his Judo and getting thrown around in laughable fashion. It doesn’t last that long, though, so don’t worry

Once he becomes a ‘G’ Man, we follow him and his fellow ‘G’ Men as they try to fight against the local criminals. Without the benefit of having guns, though, they might as well be boxers fighting with their hands tied behind their backs. Cagney’s still able to rough guys up, though, and there aren’t too many things more fun than watching Cagney fuck guys up.

As the film continues, Brick finds himself getting closer and closer to Leggett, the man who killed his friend. Following his trail of Gardenias---which he buys as good luck charms---as well as using fingerprinting technology, they are finally able to track him down. They’re unable to get Collins, though, who is the other wanted man from Mac’s old crew. The quest to find him results in what is, IMO, the best action scene of the early studio era films. The shootouts are surprisingly engaging and realistic, and while they’re not on par with Heat, they’re still adrenaline-inducing enough.



Cagney, of course, nails his man, as well as gets the girl, but clichés aside, the film is truly one of the best of the early crime films, and IMO, is right up there with Angels With Dirty Faces and White Heat as one of Cagney’s best. He's truly at the top of his game, delivering his serious, bad ass lines with that cocky arrogance the way only he can, and at the same time, warrants several laughs with some damn funny scenes, even for 1935.

One of the classic crime films, 'G'-Men is vintage Warner Bros. as well as vintage Cagney.

Also, for you to check out: The original trailer for the film.

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