Stephen King Month: Needful Things

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It’s the third week of my look at Stephen King movie adaptations. This week’s blog entry is on a book and movie that I feel are both very underrated. I’m speaking of Needful Things. It’s a fascinating study of human nature and the paranoia that hides under the surface of small town America.

Needful Things is set in Castle Rock, Maine, an imaginary setting for many of King’s works. Castle Rock has just had a new shop open called Needful Things. It’s run by new Castle Rock resident Leland Gaunt (Max Von Sydow). But this is no ordinary shop. There is nothing ordinary in the world of Stephen King after all. Gaunt’s shop has objects that everyone in town desires. The financial cost of the items isn’t much. But there’s an additional price. Purchasers are required to also play a practical joke on another town resident. For example Brian (Shane Meier) has to throw muck from the turkey farm onto Wilma Jerzyck’s (Valri Bromfield) newly laundered sheets that are hanging on the clothesline.

The pranks seem harmless at first and Sheriff Pangborn (Ed Harris), who has recently moved to Castle Rock to avoid the craziness of big city life, isn’t worried. But then things escalate, and the residents get more violent toward one another. Corruption, greed and jealousy all come the surface in one dangerous prank after another. It turns out that Leland Gaunt is no mere shopkeeper. He is, in fact, the devil himself. Gaunt has set up shop  to sow the chords of chaos. He enjoys pitting the Castle Rock residents against one another and manipulating them like a puppeteer.

Needful Things is a fascinating examination of human nature and the lengths people will go to in order to get what they want the most. Humans will quickly turn on each other, even in a seemingly quiet place like Castle Rock. The way the tension gradually builds and the people turn into a mob is fascinating. Remember all the quintessential American towns of Frank Capra’s movies? Needful Things is like a dark version of that. Everyone seems on the surface like Joe/Jane regular. But even the most ordinary person has dark secrets. Leland Gaunt just helps the secrets come out in the open.

My two favorite performances in the film are by Max Von Sydow and Ed Harris. Von Sydow could have easily overacted the juicy part he was given. But he hits the right note by being menacing and gleeful without going overboard and venturing into to campy territory. Ed Harris is someone who I’ve admired for years. He turns in one great performance after another in leading and supporting roles. It’s a joy watching him figure out the puzzle of what Mr. Gaunt is up to and the relationships he develops with the Castle Rock residents.

Needful Things didn’t get great reviews and it’s not cited often on lists of great Stephen King adaptations. But to me the book and the movie are both hidden gems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stephen King Month: Christine

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All October I will be writing about Stephen King film adaptations. This week I have chosen Christine. While the central premise of the movie, that an old Plymouth Fury is possessed and becomes a killing machine, is fairly ridiculous, the movie is fairly effective.

Stephen King really has a knack for creating relatable, believable outsiders, especially kids. This was evident in Carrie and The Body (which was adapted into the movie Stand By Me). In Christine, the protagonist is alienated teen Arnie (Keith Gordon). One day while getting a ride from his friend Dennis (John Stockwell) he sees a junked Plymouth Fury in a garden. Arnie is instantly taken with the car. The car’s original owner gives him the car (the Christine of the title). Arnie then works overtime in a car repair shop to restore it.

But this isn’t just a simple story about a boy and his first car. As Arnie becomes more and more obsessed with the car, which makes him feel like a cool kid for the first time in his life, Arnie starts to transform himself. The once nerdy loaner becomes a cocky and alienates the people around him. While the human drama plays out, the car proves to have a mind of its own. Christine starts killing the people who matter to Arnie so the car can have Arnie to herself.

Christine was directed by John Carpenter, the horror master behind HalloweenThe Thing and They Live. Carpenter generally doesn’t go too crazy with special effects. But here, there are some truly impressive ones involving the possessed car. It gets damaged and then seems to repair itself. There’s a particularly eerie moment when we see the car  traveling driverless while on fire. Christine may seem a little dated and cheesy in some respects. But the visuals are quite striking.

As I’ve said, the central premise of the movie is pretty outlandish. But what’s just as compelling as the special effects involving the car and the whole notion of a car being sentient and turning into a serial killer, is the story arc of Artie. As he restores Christine, Arnie becomes the type of person he used to despise. His relationships with the people in his life becomes tenuous while his one with Christine grows day by day. Credit to Keith Gordon for making Arnie into such a compelling character. It’s a really underrated performance IMHO. And I also like John Stockwell who played his friend Dennis.

What’s fascinating about Christine is that it also gets right how we all become obsessed with our first car, not matter what a pile of junk it is. And then it portrays accurately how people, especially men, use cars as a way to attract women. The woman in this case is Leigh Cabot (Alexandra Paul), the most popular girl in school Leigh and Artie start to date, making Christine jealous. There’s a scene where Arnie takes Leigh to a drive-in movie. While Arnie steps out for snacks, Christine tries to kill Leigh. It’s one of the most intense scenes in the movie.

Christine sounds ludicrous on the surface. But the story works because of the grounded performances and John Carpenter’s craft. It’s not the best Stephen King adaptation, but it’s one of the most entertaining.

Stephen King Month: The Dead Zone

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It’s October. And that means it’s time to binge watch horror movies. One thing you’re sure to see a lot of on TV this month is adaptations of Stephen King stories. He’s a modern master of the genre. And while adaptations of his works have been hit or miss, there are a few that really get the material right. That’s my topic this month. Up first is The Dead Zone, a 1983 adaptation of King’s novel of the same name. It’s more supernatural than straight up horror. But it beautifully builds tension and features one of the best performances of Christopher Walken’s career.

As the film opens, we meet protagonist Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) . He’s a school teacher who appears to have his whole life ahead of him. But one night while leaving his fiancee’s house, his life is changed forever. Smith gets in a horrible car wreck and ends up in a coma. Five years later he wakes up. But he has acquired an unusual gift. He can see people’s past, present, and future merely by making physical contact with them. Smith discovers his ability when he first wakes up from his coma. While being bathed by his nurse, he sees her house is on fire and her daughter is in danger.

While also adjusting to his new ability, Smith has to also adjust to how the world has moved on without him during his coma. The toughest part is that his fiancee Sarah (Brooke Adams) has gotten married and now has a child. Many people misunderstand Smith’s ability. So he stays at home, working as a tutor.

But then one day his gift forces him to take action. When he shakes hands with US Senate candidate Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen) at a rally, he gets a flash of Stillson becoming President and starting World War III by launching a preemptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. The Dead Zone poses a very uncomfortable question. Is assassination ever justified? The movie handles that question in a much more nuanced way than you might expect.

The Dead Zone is not the kind of film I expect from director David Cronenberg after ScannersThe FlyThe Brood, etc. While I liked those movies, as well as Videodrome, they were much more horror films of the gross out variety. The horror in The Dead Zone is much more rooted in reality and leans more on the psychological side. Although there is one death scene that is pretty terrifying. We don’t see how it ends. But what is suggested is grisly enough. The movie is very grounded and fairly faithful to its source material.

The other reason I love The Dead Zone so much is because of Christopher Walken. He’s an actor we have started to take for granted. And that’s really a shame. He has transitioned beautifully into a character actor, especially in Catch Me If You Can. But in The Dead Zone, you really get to see what a great actor he is when put in a leading role. Walken brings so much warmth and humanity to Johnny Smith that you can’t help but root for him and have your heart break for him when people don’t take his predictions seriously. It would have been easy to overact the part. But Walken really makes you feel his melancholy as well as show you the character’s good nature. He really brings out the pathos of the character. It was one of his last leading roles. And he delivers. Does he ever!

The Dead Zone is one of the best thrillers and easily one of the best Stephen King adaptations done for the big or small screen. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Essentials Month: James Bond Movies

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This week’s essentials list is devoted to the Bond franchise. So, without further ado, here are my 10 essential James Bond movies,

1. Goldfinger (1964)

The best Bond is Sean Connery. And, for my money, the best all around Bond film is Goldfinger. This film is where the whole Bond formula came together and ran like a well oiled machine. Auric Goldfinger is one of the best Bond villains. And his evil plan is brilliant. He will break in to Fort Nox and make the gold radioactive, resulting in economic chaos in the West. The movie also benefits from a sharp script, iconic title track sung by Shirley Bassey and great Bond gadgets (including the Aston DB5, which has, among other things, an ejector seat).

2. From Russia With Love (1962)

Dr. No may have kicked off the franchise. But From Russia With Love cemented it a franchise to be reckoned with. This time Bond (Connery) is after an encryption device. He must retrieve it before it falls into the hands of SPECTRE. Along the way, he romances Tatiana Romanova and runs afoul of Donald “Red” Grant (Robert Shaw). This film has great exotic locales and features a great drag out fight on a train between Bond and Grant. Shaw belongs in the Pantheon of great Bond villains IMHO,

3. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Sean Conner was a tough act to follow. But Roger Moore was up to the task. While his outings as Bond were somewhat hit and miss, he did make one that ranks as one of the franchise’s best: The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond has to track down a missing British submarine armed with nuclear missiles. He teams up with K.G.B. agent Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach). This movie also introduces Richard Kiel as Jaws, an evil henchman with metal teeth. This movie features a great tune by Carly Simon and some of the best work of legendary production designer Ken Adam.

4. GoldenEye (1995)

Haters can hate all they want. But Pierce Brosnan to me was a fantastic Bond. The best after Sean Connery. And he made his debut in an action packed masterpiece. GoldenEye is important historically, not simply because it introduced us to a new Bond actor. But it was the first Bond film to be released after the fall of the Soviet Union. Bonus? Bond’s boss M is played by the fabulous Judy Dench. Bond is after the codes to GoldenEye, a space weapon that can send out an electromagnetic pulse and that shuts down all electronic equipment. This movie brings Bond into the 90s with a bang.

5. The Living Daylights (1987)

If there’s one Bond actor who has grown on me more than any other over the years, it’s Timothy Dalton. He paved the way for the hard edged Bond of Daniel Craig. There’s not a doubt in my mind that Fleming would have approved of Dalton’s portrayal. This time, Bond has to stop an arms dealer from setting off a war. The Living Daylights has plenty going for it, including one of the best opening sequences ever filmed to introduce a new Bond. There’s also a great title tune by a-Ha, and just an all around gritty atmosphere that brings Bond back to his roots after the camp and disappointing A View To A Kill.

6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

George Lazenby is my least favorite Bond. But the one film in the franchise that he made was pretty great. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service does something that the other films to that point failed to do: humanize Bond. Early in the film, Bond asks for a leave of absence. While on leave, he prevents Tracy (Diana Rigg) from committing suicide. Tracy is the daughter of mob boss  Draco (Gabrielle Ferzetti).Draco is impressed by Bond and wants him to protect tract by marrying her. In exchange, Draco will give Bond information on arch nemesis Blofeld (played perfectly by Telly Savalas). This is the most emotional Bond outing. And the ending brings me to tears every time.

7. Thunderball (1965)

Sean Connery’s fourth Bond outing is a great ride. SPECTRE hijacks a British Vulcan bomber armed with atomic warheads. They then hold NATO ransom for one hundred million dollars. Bond must retrieve the warheads before SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) can launch them to attack the UK and USA mainlands. Largo’s hideout in the Bahamas is one of the best villainous lairs in the history of the franchise.

8. Casino Royale (2006)

The casting of Daniel Craig as Bond was met with a lot of skepticism. But his first entry in the iconic franchise is fantastic. Here, we get to see Bond go on his first mission. He heads to Montenegro for a poker game. But it’s not for fun and games. He must win to prevent banker to the terrorist Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) from winning. Along on the mission are Vesper (Eva Green) and Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), Craig proves the cynics wrong, bringing us a Bond who is both deadly and charming.

9. Skyfall (2012)

Craig makes his second appearance on my list. His debut, Skyfall, was a complete winner. The follow-up, Quantum of Solace, was sadly a hot mess. But he rebounded with the spectacular Skyfall. MI6 agents’ identities have been leaked. Their headquarters are also attacked. M is forced to relocate their operations base. What’s fascinating about Skyfall is that it humanizes Bond and also gives us some of M’s backstory. Judy Dench gets to really shine and show why she’s one of our best actresses. And Javier Bardem’s Silva is a great villain.

10. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

In the mass media age of 2019, Tomorrow Never Dies is more relevant than ever. Media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) wants to dominate media all over the world.The only media market he doesn’t control is China. To achieve media rights all over the world, Carver plans to start World War III. Carver will plant false news stories to stoke tensions between China and the UK. Carver is tied to the disappearance of a British battleship in the South China Sea. Bond is sent to investigate and teams up with Chinese agent Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh). What stands out amidst the spectacular action and great story is the chemistry between Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh. Wai Lin is every bit Bond’s equal. And that just doubles the fun. She would pave the way for Halle Berry in Die Another Day.

Essentials Month: Vampire Movies

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Halloween is right around the corner. With that in mind, my essentials list this week is on vampire movies. So here are the ones that every horror fan should see.

1. Nosferatu (1922)

There have been so many vampire movies made in the history of cinema. But the one that still reigns supreme is Nosferatu. Directed by F.W. Murnau, it’s the first adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s not only a terrifying horror movie with its establishment of the vampire mythology. It’s a visual feast. Murnau beautifully establishes mood with its German expressionist-style look. This is one of the silent movies I use to introduce people to silent movies.

2. Near Dark (1987)

Before Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win Best Director at the Oscars for The Hurt Locker, she directed one of the most inventive vampire films in recent memory. Mixing the genres of western and vampire movie probably sounds like a recipe for the worst movie ever made. But it provides a unique twist. The vampires are nomads who travel the road in blacked out RV, sort of like a biker gang. Near Dark is definitely gruesome, but it also has some great performances. My favorite is Bill Paxton’s. His takedown of rednecks in a bar is a highlight of the movie.

3. Horror of Dracula (1958)

Many actors have played the iconic Dracula. Bela Lugosi may be the most famous. But, for my money, no one played the iconic role with as much style and menace as Christopher Lee. His Dracula was much more menacing. And if I had to pick one outing of his, it would be Horror of Dracula. Bonus? We also get Peter Cushing playing Doctor Van Helsing. Both actors deliver tour de force performances.

4. Interview With The Vampire (1994)

You might not think Tom Cruise would make a great vampire. But you’d be surprised. Cruise shines, along with Brad Pitt in Interview With The Vampire, a brilliant adaptation of Anne Rice’s novel. Neil Jordan, fresh of The Crying Game, might seem an unlikely choice to direct. But, again, you’d be surprised. More than any other vampire movie, this one establishes that the world of vampires has existed for centuries. Along with the stellar performances by its talented cast, Interview With The Vampire features some of the best production design I have ever seen by Dante Ferritti.

5. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Want a vampire movie that would make a great double feature with Near Dark? Then From Dusk Till Dawn is the movie for you. Directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin CityEl Mariachi and Spy Kids), it’s a wild and campy adventure that never has a dull moment. Criminals Seth (George Clooney) and Richard (Quentin Tarantino) take their hostages to a truck stop for temporary refuge. What they don’t know is the truck stop is overrun with vampires. Craziness ensues. There’s a wild energy to this movie that makes it so much more entertaining than a description of its plot would suggest. And it has some amazing creature design. This is the vampire movie I never knew I needed.

6. 30 Days of Night (2007)

A lot of vampire movies get dull during the daytime scenes. Since the vampires can’t come out in daylight, what’s the point? 30 Days of Night solves that problem by having it take place in constant darkness. Barrow, Alaska plunges into darkness for a whole month during the year. During that time, a gang of vampires roll into town to take advantage of the situation. This movie is a little hit and miss. But it does have some great vampire kills and a terrific performance by Josh Hartnett as Sheriff Eben.

7. Let The Right One In (2008)

Sweden produced one of the bast vampire movies of the last 20 years. Let The Right One In isn’t just a vampire horror movie. It’s also a great story about the pains of adolescence. Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) befriends Eli (Lina Lina Leandersson)Oskar is getting bullied constantly at school. But his friendship with Eli helps him cope, and , eventually, fight back. This one would be a great double bill with Carrie.

8. Fright Night (1985)

Imagine the wacky neighbor next door isn’t just eccentric. What if the person is a blood sucking fiend? That’s the premise of the horror comedy Fright Night. It’s fun and funny, playing on the premise that suburbia is not as quaint and norma as it may appear on the surface. I would also recommend the remake from 2011. Few remakes are as good as the original. This is a rare case where that happens.

9. The Hunger (1983)

David Bowie was not only a brilliant musical artist and fashion icon. He had wonderful screen presence. My favorite movie of his is Labyrinth. But close behind it is The Hunger. Directed by Tony Scott (Top Gun), it’s a surprisingly involving movie that’s a love triangle between a vampire, her cellist companion and a gerontologist. It’s a soap opera in parts. But it’s also very stylized and a lot of fun to watch.

10. The Lost Boys (1987)

The 1980s sure was a great decade for vampire movies. Among my favorites from the decade is the teen vampire movie The Lost Boys. Among its cast is a young Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. Two boys move to a new town and discover its full of vampires. The fun of this film is seeing the young cast shine. It doesn’t condescend to the teen audiences as many do today. And that is very refreshing.

Essentials Month: Pre-Code Movies

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I thought I would mix things up a little bit this month. Each week I will be a post that’s a top ten list. Each will be essentials of some kind. Some will be specific to genres, directors, topics, etc. To start things off, I’m writing about a topic near and dear to my classic film loving heart: pre-code movies. Before censorship laws took hold, Hollywood made some pretty daring movies. Here are the top ten essential pre-code movies every classic film fan should see.

1. Baby Face (1933)

The definitive pre-code movie to me is Baby Face. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, one of the most versatile  actresses in classic Hollywood, it’s story seems racy even today. Stanwyck plays Lilly Powers, a woman who has been sexual exploited her whole life by her father. Powers gets fed up and finally tells her father off. Then she decides to turn the tables by exploiting men in the same way. She sleeps her way to the top of a New York City bank, Films that frank about sexuality rarely get made today. Back in the 30s it blew people’s minds, but was also highly controversial. In its initial release, several US cities banned it for its sexual innuendo. According to IMDB, the uncensored version of the film was not seen until 2004 at the London Film Festival.

2. The Public Enemy (1931)

One of the staples of the pre-code era was gangster films. And one actor who excelled at playing tough gangsters was James Cagney. A song and dance man at heart, Cagney had an amazing ability to turn on a dime and go from pleasant to white hot rage. A case in point is Cagney’s portrayal of gangster Tom Powers in The Public Enemy. It follows the exploits of Powers as a rises as a figure in the Chicago underworld during the prohibition era. What sets The Public Enemy  apart from other films of its kind (besides Cagney’s brilliant performance) is how unflinching it is in its portrayal of onscreen violence. It may look tame today because it’s in black and white. But it was shocking for its time. Along with Little Caesar (1931) and Scarface (1932), The Public Enemy is an essential pre-code crime movie.

3. King Kong (1933)

King Kong has had remakes and sequels made since its release in 1933. While many of them have more advanced special effects, there’s a real charm to the original. King Kong himself feels very lifelike considering the film was made before advanced CGI and animatronics. The imagination to create not just Kong himself, but the stop motion dinosaurs and other creatures on Skull Island are impressive even today. King Kong set the stage for every creature feature that followed, including Godzilla and all its knockoffs.

4. All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)

There have been so many war movies made over the years that it’s hard to pick just one. But, for my money, the best war movie ever made is All Quiet On The Western Front. One of the reasons it reigns supreme in my eyes is how unflinchingly honest it is about war, especially its futility. It follows a group of German school boys talked into volunteering to fight in World War I. This isn’t a war film with glamorous heroics and a battalion of colorful characters. Its a sobering look at how going through combat changes, and in this case, disillusions them to the cause. It was bold in 1930 and it’s plenty bold in 2019,

5. Freaks (1932)

Tod Browning may be best known for directing Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931). But he made another horror film in the pre-code era that has become a definitive cult classic. That movie is Freaks. Following the backstage drama of a circus troupe, especially a sideshow performer and his gold digging lover, Freaks showed audiences kinds of people rarely seen before: people with arms and legs, bearded ladies, etc. While the film was released in 1932, it was banned in the UK until 1963.

6. Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Musicals that were about the backstage process of making musicals were a big part of the pre-code era. One of the best of all of them is Gold Diggers of 1933. Chorus girls Carol (Joan Blondell), Polly (Ruby Keeler) and Trixie (Aline MacMahon) learn that Barney (Ned Sparks) is putting on a Broadway show. While Barney claims he has parts for all of them, the trouble is he doesn’t have the money to put the show on. He lucks out when his neighbor, Brad Roberts (Dick Powell) signs on to write some of the songs. Brad comes from a wealthy family. Through screwball comedy circumstances, Brad ends up being in the show after initially refusing to perform. His wealthy family objects, and threatens to cut off his money. Gold Diggers of 1933 is a great time capsule of the type of  movies audiences flocked to during the Great Depression. The best part of the movie is a musical called Remember My Forgotten Man, a stirring salute to soldiers struggling when they came back home. The movie is one of the many great movies of choreographer Busby Berkeley. Shadow Waltz in particular is one of his greatest numbers.

7. The Divorcee (1930)

Norma Shearer is a name far too few people know today outside of those who are classic film devotees. While my favorite film of hers is The Women (1939), she also made a film that was ahead of its time way back in 1930. In The Divorcee, Shearer plays Jerry. When Jerry discovers that husband Ted (Chester Morris) has been unfaithful to her, she responds by having an affair herself. The Divorcee tackled the taboo subject of infidelity in a very adult way. And the risk of the making the movie paid off when Shearer won an Oscar for Best Actress.

8. The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

The Most Dangerous Game is a really involving thriller that deserves a wider audience. When passengers on a luxury cabin cruiser become shipwrecked on a remote island, they start disappearing one by one. It turns out the seemingly benign island resident, Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), is not all that he seems. Turns out he’s a big game hunter. Except the big game he likes to hunt is humans. Bob (Joel McCrea) and Eve (Fay Wray) are the last surviving passengers. The movie follows their desperate fight for survival. It’s a real nail biter that will have you on the edge of your seat.

9. She Done Him Wrong (1933)

Mae West was a woman ahead of her time. A woman who was never afraid of being frank about her sexuality, West exuded charisma and was right and home in pre-code comedies. One of her best was She Done Him Wrong, where she plays nightclub owner Lady Lou. She has men suitors, including a vicious criminal who is coming back to see her, not realizing she hasn’t exactly been faithful to him. In to help her deal with the problem is temperance league leader Captain Cummings (Cary Grant). I love Cary Grant in any genre. But my favorite Cary Grant is screwball comedy Cary Grant. He and West are magnificent together in this movie. It’s amazing how some of the racy jokes got by in 1933,

10. Duck Soup (1933)

The Marx Brothers remain one of the greatest comedy acts of all time. And they appeared in a definitive pre-code comedy called Duck Soup. What makes this a great movie isn’t just the usual Marx Brothers formula of one-liners from Groucho, the physical comedy of Harpo, etc. What makes this a standout in their series of comedies is what a biting political satire it is. Groucho plays Freedonia president Rufus T. Firefly. The country is headed for financial ruin. Neighboring country Sylvania is plotting to overthrow Freedonia. Duck Soup takes aim at everything that frustrates us about government and politics. It’s sharp, funny and feels all too relevant in 2019.

Summer Under The Stars Viewing Guide: 8/25-8/31

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It’s the final week of TCM’s Summer Under The Stars festival. And so, without further ado, here are my picks for the week.

8/25: Dustin Hoffman

I’m a sucker for Tootsie, the brilliant gender bending comedy. And normally that would be my pick for Dustin Hoffman’s SUTS day. But I decided to go in a completely different direction and pick Marathon Man. It remains one of the most effective thrillers ever made. Hoffman has a rich cast around him include Sir Laurence Olivier and Roy Scheider. Just don’t watch it before going to the dentist.

8/26: Mary Astor

Mary Astor never gets enough credit for what a great actress she was in my humble opinion. So I’m thrilled she’s getting some recognition this year. And my pick is the film where she first made a real impression on me. That would be the iconic film noir The Maltese Falcon. Astor shines as the femme fatale, one of the characters after the valuable black bird referenced in the title. She holds her own alongside the likes of Bogie, Sydney Green Street and Peter Lorre. John Huston’s directorial debut remains one of the moodiest and most effective crime stories ever put on film.

8/27: Walter Brennan

Walter Brennan is an unsung hero of the Golden Age of Hollywood. A endlessly talented character actor. While he often made a name for himself in westerns, for his SUTS day my recommendation is To Have And Have Not. The film is most famous for Bogie and Bacall falling in love during its production. And you can feel their instant chemistry in every frame of the movie. Brennan adds to the cast of colorful characters they meet along the way.

8/28: June Allyson

For June Allyson’s SUTS day, I have to go with Executive Suite. A rich ensemble piece directed by Robert Wise, it’s a fascinating look at corporate intrigue and how people endeavor to climb up the ladder. The cast is one of the best ever assembled for a movie: Barbara Stanwyck, William Holden, Frederic March, Shelley Winters… It feels like a precursor to the TV show Mad Men in a lot of ways. Except in this case the setting is the office of a manufacturing company instead of an advertising agency.

8/29: Paul Lukas

Paul Lukas’ most famous movie might well be Watch on the Rhine. But it’s not my favorite from his filmography. That honor goes to The Lady Vanishes. A late 30s masterpiece from Alfred Hitchcock, The Lady Vanishes tells the fascinating story of a playgirl traveling in Europe who is convinced an elderly woman has disappeared on the train. Did the woman actually vanish or is the girl crazy? In typical Hitchock style, the resolution involves incredible twists and turns and it keeps you guessing right until the end.

8/30: Susan Hayward

I’m honestly surprised I Want to Live wasn’t included in the day devoted to Susan Hayward. But I digress. If you watch one film on her day, make it the top notch but sadly rarely screened House of Strangers. It’s a very effective family melodrama about recently released prisoner Max (Richard Conte) and his quest to take revenge on his brothers for betraying him. Hayward plays his love interest Irene, who helps him get perspective on his situation. Bonus? You also get Edward G. Robinson in this movie. That is always cause for celebration in my eyes.

8/31: Kirk Douglas

Summer Under The Stars goes out with a bang this year. The last featured star is Kirk Douglas. Still with us at the ripe old age of 103, Douglas’ resume is loaded with some of the best movies ever made. A big part of me wanted to choose Spartacus. It’s significant not just as a sweeping Kubrick epic, but for it’s part in ending the infamous Hollywood Black List. But my pick is Lust For Life. It’s easy to go overboard in a biopic. But Kirk Douglas is pitch perfect in Lust For Life. He brings the genius and the pain of Vincent Van Gogh to the screen in a way that’s so effective it moves me to tears even after repeat viewings. The movie does justice to Van Gogh the brilliant artist as well as Van Gogh the tortured soul. Many movies have been made about famous artists. But few have been as accurate about the creative process and the struggle of finding your artistic voice.