August Film Diary, Part 1

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A quick roundup of good things I’ve watched lately:

Darker Than Amber (1970). Rod Taylor made a great Travis McGee, brought excellent action and an all-time brutal fight with William Smith, who’s scary as a psycho muscleman. A shame Taylor didn’t do more in this series. Fun appearance by Jane Russell on the eternal party boat. I liked the grit and heat and sinister feel of this detective yarn, compared to…

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Marlowe (1969), which takes a more jokey approach to its twisted sister mystery. James Garner’s cool charm and quick wit is very appealing and got him out of close scrapes. Nice, memorable bit of office “reno” by Bruce Lee.

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99 Homes (2014). Michael Shannon intense as the real estate broker who games the foreclosure system, and lures into his operation a recent evictee, whose dream of earning back his home comes from the same sentimentality and conscience that will lead him to blow the whistle. It was interesting to see this movie right before The Mind Reader (1933); both films’ crooked characters rationalize their crimes in terms of market demand and suckers already there–someone will be taking advantage, so why not me?

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Crimson Peak (2015), gorgeous visuals, some graphic violence, and Gothic romance; a kind of twisted technicolor Rebecca or Spiral Staircase. The ghosts shock less the more they emerge and should have been left entirely to the imagination, since the human horrors spook so well. Jessica Chastain is as riveting tightly coiled as mad and unleashed, and despite the easy-to-guess sibling secret, it’s fun to watch Allerdale Hall and its terrible, pathetic inhabitants sink into the blood-red clay.

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L’Eclisse (1962), mesmerizing and momentarily blissful, as Alain Delon and Monica Vitti try romance and constant motion to ward off discontentment, materialism, boredom and emptiness. His “easy come, easy go” superficiality, her ennui and indecision; she’s as exciting and fickle as the stock market where he works. I’m fascinated by this and L’Avventura, next I need to complete this trilogy (if out of order) and see La Notte.

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Shack Out on 101 (1955), wild, gleefully unpredictable and wonderfully oddball noir where a seaside diner covers colourful international espionage and the selling of nuclear secrets to some unnamed Commie-ish nation. Lee Marvin menaces, Keenan Wynn weightlifts, and Whit Bissell makes good use of that famous dramatic principle, Chekhov’s harpoon.

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Grace of Monaco (2014). I liked Nicole Kidman’s performance, but the directing style was better suited to a frantic espionage thriller, not this turning point for the disenchanted “bricklayer’s daughter” who decides to act her way to the confidence, stillness, serenity, and stealth needed to survive her marriage, the French Blockade and traitorous in-laws (lots of historical inaccuracies to arrange the plot so this Princess Grace can save Monaco).

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River Lady (1948). Gambling-boat queen Yvonne De Carlo tries to engineer her logger sweetheart Rod Cameron’s life so he can share her high rags-to-riches rung and get revenge on the snobs. Her plans backfire when he rebels and falls for his boss’s daughter (Helena Carter). Good things here include Dan Duryea, in unrequited love with kindred, if less crooked, spirit De Carlo. Business and romantic rivalries are settled during an dynamite logjam/sabotage sequence. Paired this one with De Carlo gem…

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The Gal Who Took the West (1949). Perfectly described at IMDb as the Rashomon of western romantic comedies. The various overlapping flashbacks and recollections of “Gal” Yvonne De Carlo explore her role and motives in the feud between cousins Scott Brady and John Russell. Uncle Charles Coburn worries and works to rid himself of De Carlo after she comes to town pretending to be an opera singer. The swanky debut where she breaks into “Frankie and Johnny” instead of an aria is one of many delightful moments showcasing her comedic touch.

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Tokyo Drifter (1966), groovy, funny pop art gangland showdown that pulls back in the hip singer/drifter Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari). He just wants his freedom, but ends up getting chased across a sensational, surreal time-jumping candy-coloured collage of musical comedy (the epic saloon brawl!), cartoon violence and thrilling action. Crazy fun.

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Wind Across the Everglades (1958). Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in the Florida swamps, with Burl Ives as the kingpin poacher resisting the activism of crusading ornithologist Christopher Plummer. Their conflict exposes local corruption and drops a romantic plot thread before an “only one gets out alive” ending where Ives and Plummer argue their respective appreciation for, connection to and stewardship of the swamp.

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A Bullet Is Waiting (1954). Sheltered professor’s daughter Jean Simmons gets lessons in love and conflict when shady Sheriff Stephen McNally and his uncouth but decent prisoner Rory Calhoun get stranded at her remote ranch. Tense power struggle and much talk coax out the details of Calhoun’s crime and McNally’s grudge, then an armed character test once father Brian Aherne returns. Wonderful scenery in this, including the rugged, noble Calhoun, as well as Simmons’ awkward tenderness and blossoming desire for independence.

As always, thoughts and related recommendations are welcome.

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22 thoughts on “August Film Diary, Part 1”

    1. Hope you enjoy, others I’ve talked to about Crimson tend to like the look and were let down by story, pays homage to a lot of genres/things Del Toro likes.

  1. This is a great list! Makes me want to see A BULLET IS WAITING, I recorded it long enough ago it’s on VHS and not DVD-R (LOL). Calhoun and McNally=fantastic!

    So glad you loved THE GAL WHO TOOK THE WEST, that’s such a fave of mine. RIVER LADY was pretty fun too, especially Duryea. But GAL is special.

    And SHACK OUT ON 101…soooo much crazy fun.

    A great viewing month!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    1. More to come, I’ve been watching tons lately. Really enjoyed Gal and Shack, always neat to discover so many new gems! Bullet gets kind of talky and drags in places but like you I enjoy those actors so, time well spent. Shack had so much bizarre memorable stuff packed in, like the opening bit on the beach, the weightlifting and diving gear scenes, etc. Thanks!

  2. Marlowe sounds fun. My grandmother had the biggest crush on James Garner, and who can blame her?

    The two Yvonne de Carlo movies look good, too. I’ve been pining for Westerns lately, but do not know why.

    1. That’s right Garner is so smooth and really good at this kind of Bond-style humour. I get the same way with westerns and have been watching a lot lately, they’re comfort food.

  3. I too like A Bullet Is Waiting. Simmons one of my favorite beauties in screen history. Calhoun and McNally add to the fun. I’ll have to see those DeCarlo flicks and with Duryea makes it a must. About that Rod Taylor flick….. where do I find it? That’s a hint if you have it.

    1. Darker Than Amber was a random YT find and not the best quality but glad to catch it any way. Lots of good movies here, the Yvonne double feature was great.

  4. As always a wonderfully eclectic choice from Kristina.
    RIVER LADY is a sort of capital vs labor saga.
    It’s obvious Cameron & Duryea loathe each other
    but their barbed one liners while in polite company
    are a joy to behold..the two actors are pitch perfect in these
    scenes.
    I loved the way Rod’s character gets darker as the odds get
    stacked against him.Rod is so underrated as an actor.
    RIVER LADY is NOT a knockabout romp-it’s themes are
    pretty deep.

    A BULLET IS WAITING is very good and it’s fun to see
    Simmons paired with second string leads. Jean was a
    true superstar in those days.
    Before anyone gets on my case I am a huge fan of
    Calhoun and McNally.
    WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES is a knockout
    and Ives and Plummer are sensational in this film.

    Kristina,I understand from your comments over at
    Laura’s you are about to join the Buck Jones fan
    club…that’s great.
    The early Columbia’s are the best.
    As our friend Jerry notes THE DEADLINE is one of
    Buck’s very best. As Jerry also notes the p.q. on the
    Sony MOD disc is beyond wonderful.
    To see a film of that vintage in such pristine condition
    is indeed a real treat,..

    1. Goes to show how deep westerns can be, something I think people (who aren’t into westerns) underestimate. Yvonne and Rod were such fun together, I’ve seen Frontier Gal but not Salome… my fellow Canadians! I love to imagine they’re representative and we’re all that cool 🙂 Yes I liked the trio in BULLET, all very good, and had to follow with another Rory movie to be named in the next roundup. I love to get into these runs of actors or directors. EVERGLADES was super too, and I read up a bit afterwards about Nick Ray getting fired and the backstory on that, very interesting. Laura is doing such a nice job with the Buck Jones reviews she’s got me very eager to see his pictures, haven’t seen any yet!

      1. Thanks for the kind words, Kristina, and I hope you’ll enjoy Buck as much as I do! My dad’s been watching them as fast as I can send them to him and agrees they are up there with the George O’Brien RKO’s for quality — and in fact some of them are even more unique. Really interesting stuff.

        Best wishes,
        Laura

  5. A Buck Jones ‘fest’ from Kristina at some stage would be really fun!! Whaddyathink, John?

  6. Great list! I also enjoyed 99 Homes. Shannon continues to impress. Can’t wait to see what he’ll do next. Several of these are on my To Watch list, including River Lady, which I was unaware of!

    1. Agree, I really enjoy watching Shannon and need to catch up with a few more of his, including Midnight Special. Glad to tip you off to some good things!

      1. Have you seen Shotgun Stories? Jeff Nichols’s first film, but not Shannon’s. He’s been around longer than I thought.

          1. Let me know what you think after you’ve seen Shotgun Stories. I think you’ll like it. I liked Mud as well. Only saw Take Shelter once, but it’s on my ever-growing rewatch list.

  7. For what it’s worth my fave “Cool Canadians”
    Thanks to Kristina for coining the phrase and of
    course is one “Cool Canadian” 🙂

    Apart,of course from Rod and Yvonne.

    BUFFY SAINTE MARIE
    IAN & SYLVIA TYSON
    GLENN FORD
    JOHN IRELAND
    LEE PATTERSON
    ADAM BEACH
    NEIL YOUNG
    JONI MITCHELL
    DONALD SUTHERLAND

    There are loads of others of course but these are
    personal favorites who’s work I have enjoyed (and
    still enjoy) over the years.

    1. Nice list! Agree with the big names but really love to see Adam Beach on there! Recently saw him with Dominic Purcell in Ice Soldiers, fun B scifi and with Purcell again in A Fighting Man. Lee Patterson was a big fave of my mom’s and I remember she first pointed him out to me on (without googling!) One Life to Live. Reminded me a bit of George Clooney. Curious about that new western with Donald and Keifer.

  8. Thanks Kristina….
    That Sutherland Western sounds worth tracking down,
    I believe the New York Post’s Lou Lumenick really liked
    it.
    I’m very excited about new Western HOSTILES which is
    being shot right now.
    It pairs Adam Beach with Christian Bale-sounds great-
    a most interesting supporting cast I might add.
    In a way Adam reminds me of a young Brando.
    The psychological thriller in a Western setting
    DIABLO with Adam and Scott Eastwood is also worth
    a look-not a total success but visually it’s stunning.

    1. Those sound good, HOSTILES has a great cast, you’re right. Ben Foster, Rory Cochrane, Rosamund Pike, always like to see them. I just dvr’d FORSAKEN so I’ll be watching the Sutherlands very soon.

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