Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

meetmeinstlouis_2Starring Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames, Tom Drake, Marjorie Main, Harry Davenport, June Lockhart, Henry H. Daniels Jr., Joan Carroll, Hugh Marlowe, Robert Sully

Directed by Vincente Minnelli

Expectations: High.

threestar


Meet Me in St. Louis chronicles one year in the life of the Smith family (1903 if we’re being exact). The story begins one year before the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (AKA the St. Louis World’s Fair), and the Smith family is suitably excited for this amazing development to come to their city. But the World’s Fair is merely the backdrop to the family’s tale, although it does end up reinforcing the themes that the rest of the film brings up. Anyway, the important thing to take away from the beginning of the film is that the Smith family is a strong family unit in love with St. Louis, and the potential it shows in the run-up to the World’s Fair.

Esther (Judy Garland) and Rose Smith (Lucille Bremer) are probably more excited about the prospect of future husbands, though. The girls are both still in high school, but yet Rose is “getting older” and in fear of becoming an old maid. Rose has an older suitor at college in New York on the hook, but he has yet to propose or really make any definitive statement about how he feels for Rose. Esther, however, has her sights on the boy who just moved in next door, John Truett (Tom Drake). She’s so smitten with him that she vows to make him kiss her at an upcoming house party, on the first night they formally meet face-to-face.

Continue reading Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) →

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

angelswithdirtyfaces_11Starring James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, George Bancroft, The Dead End Kids (Billy Halop, Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Gabriel Dell, Huntz Hall, Bernard Punsly), Frankie Burke, William Tracy

Directed by Michael Curtiz

Expectations: High.

fourstar


The future of our society is ultimately up to our children to carry forward, and thus it is our responsibility as adults to help make sure that these children grow up to be productive, responsible individuals. Angel with Dirty Faces builds its narrative around this idea, crafting a film that is equal parts entertainment and moral tale. It is usually billed as a gangster picture, and it does feature gangsters doing a lot of gangster stuff, but by focusing more on the next generation it transcends what we think of as the traditional gangster film.

Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connolly are a couple of teenagers up to no good. They seem bored and disinterested in the normalcy of everyday life, always on the lookout for a good time. Rocky is clearly the more forceful of the two, goading Jerry into breaking into a train car with him to steal some fountain pens. They are quickly caught in the act and forced to make a break for it, but Rocky can’t quite run as fast as Jerry and he is arrested. Rocky’s fate is sealed in this event, marking the beginning to his life of crime and more than a few multi-year stays in prison.

Continue reading Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) →

Night of the Creeps (1986)

nightofthecreeps_1Starring Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Tom Atkins, Wally Taylor, Bruce Solomon, Vic Polizos, Allan Kayser, Ken Heron, Alice Cadogan, June Harris, David Paymer

Directed by Fred Dekker

Expectations: Super high.

fourstar


Horror comedies are definitely a lost art these days, but in the 1980s filmmakers had the perfect grasp on what made a great one. Night of the Creeps is easily one of the genre’s best, managing to be hilarious yet frightening, delightfully gory, and reverential of past horror films while also being original. It often feels like a whole bunch of horror movies all smashed together into one, and that’s kind of exactly what it is. But while a multitude of ideas usually leads to a muddled story that trips over itself in its effort to entertain, in Night of the Creeps it’s just a total blast.

We open in space as fat, pink, naked aliens with monstrous heads chase after one of their own who’s apparently carrying some kind of highly dangerous experiment of theirs. But they can’t stop him, and his escape pod rockets towards this wonderful little planet we call Earth. The film now shifts to black & white, and we find ourselves in 1959. This shift is not only visually interesting, but it also sets a mood. Director Fred Dekker is not trying to accurately represent the 1950s here, just the movies of the 1950s. He does so flawlessly, even right down to the fun/scary tone that many ’50s B-Movies have.

Continue reading Night of the Creeps (1986) →

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

grapesofwrath_1Starring Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Charley Grapewin, Dorris Bowdon, Russell Simpson, O.Z. Whitehead, John Qualen, Eddie Quillan, Zeffie Tilbury

Directed by John Ford

Expectations: Moderate.

fourstar


The Grapes of Wrath is a hard film to watch and not be affected by. It tells the story of the Joad family from Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Driven from their farm by foreclosure, they decide to move the whole clan to California. There’s talk of jobs picking produce there, and though it’s a hard choice, the promise of something on the other side of the country is better than the nothing they have in Oklahoma.

The film opens with Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) returning from a four-year stay in the penitentiary. He’s on his way home, and he learns of their plight when he arrives there and everyone is gone. They haven’t started for California just yet, though, so Tom is able to help his family get on the road. On the way to the house, Tom also meets Casy, a man who used to be the preacher when Tom was a boy. He finds Casy sitting in a ditch, devoid of faith and disillusioned. Between these two characters are the most interesting scenes of The Grapes of Wrath, not to downplay the other members of the Joad family, but more to highlight how important Casy is to Tom Joad’s evolution over the course of the film.

Continue reading The Grapes of Wrath (1940) →

Reefer Madness (1936)

reefermadness_1Reefer Madness (1936)
AKA Tell Your Children, Dope Addict, Doped Youth, Love Madness, The Burning Question

Starring Dorothy Short, Kenneth Craig, Lillian Miles, Dave O’Brien, Thelma White, Carleton Young, Warren McCollum, Patricia Royale, Joseph Forte, Harry Harvey Jr.

Directed by Louis J. Gasnier

Expectations: Low.

onehalfstar


When a movie remains in the cultural consciousness for as long as Reefer Madness has, you expect it to be of a certain quality. But Reefer Madness is the type of movie that would be rotting on the back shelves of some forgotten fruit cellar if it weren’t for its reputation. It was originally titled Tell Your Children and produced as an educational film for a church group, but its legend was set in stone when a producer named Dwain Esper bought the rights in the late ’30s, re-cut the film and re-titled it Reefer Madness. He then unleashed it on the exploitation circuit where it flourished.

Reefer Madness begins much like you would think an educational film produced by a church group would begin: with lengthy texts warning of the dangerous, deceitful nature of this new drug menace called Marihuana (as it’s spelled in the film), followed by a man giving a lecture on the same content to a group of churchgoers. Eventually, this gives way to the story of the film, a cautionary tale about the dangers of the drug working its way into the lives of even the most promising of teenagers! As the lecturer relates this tale to his rapt audience, the picture fades from the church hall to the city streets, and we experience the story first-hand.

Continue reading Reefer Madness (1936) →

The Great Silence (1968)

greatsilence_6The Great Silence [Il grande silenzio] (1968)
AKA The Big Silence

Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Klaus Kinski, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli, Vonetta McGee, Mario Brega, Carlo D’Angelo, Marisa Merlini

Directed by Sergio Corbucci

Expectations: Low.

threehalfstar


The Great Silence must be pretty high on the list of the bleakest films in existence. So if you’re not going to be OK with a movie that doesn’t contain a single shred of hope, optimism or happiness, then The Great Silence is one to avoid. But for those willing to take the plunge into this snow-covered land of darkness ruled by ruthless bounty killers and their greed, then you are in for one of the greatest Italian westerns of all time.

The Great Silence opens by introducing us to Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a mute gunman who lives by a strict code of only firing on a man in self-defense. He is a good man living in a cutthroat world, but his quickness on the draw and his code allow him to stay within the bounds of the law. On the other side of the proverbial coin is Loco (Klaus Kinski), a bounty killer who will kill anyone, anywhere without a second thought… as long as there’s a reward to be collected. He is an evil man, but like Silence he is also technically operating within the confines of the law. The film inevitably puts these two men against one another, but to describe the film in such simple terms makes it sound a lot more average and unremarkable than it actually is.

Continue reading The Great Silence (1968) →

Persona (1966)

persona_6Starring Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Margaretha Krook, Gunnar Björnstrand, Jörgen Lindström

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Expectations: Low.

threehalfstar


I haven’t been brave enough to watch an Ingmar Bergman film since I was a teenager. At that time I watched The Seventh Seal and I didn’t know what the hell to make of it. I pushed on and watched it again… same result. So I decided that Bergman was a filmmaker that just wasn’t for me. As the years have moved on, this decision has gnawed at me. I surmised that it wasn’t necessarily Bergman’s fault that caused The Seventh Seal to be incomprehensible, but instead it was my age and general naivety. I decided that my early 30s was a fair time to reassess this decision, so that’s how Persona made its way to this year’s Blind Spot list.

Persona is about Elizabet (Liv Ullmann), an actress that suddenly stops talking. She is admitted to a hospital where they determine that she is completely healthy and without issue, but because she continues to refuse to speak she is assigned a personal nurse to attend to her needs. For reasons I forget, the doctor sends the pair to her seaside summer home in hopes that the fresh air and being out of the city will help with Elizabet’s recovery. But in actuality, Persona isn’t really about any of this specifically.

Continue reading Persona (1966) →

Subscribe via Email!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 77 other subscribers

Ongoing Series

Top Posts & Pages