March Film Diary

This month’s pick from my “Blind Spot” list of 12 Classics to watch in 2017 is Thieves’ Highway. Lee J. Cobb is an evil fruit wholesaler trying to bully and kill his way out of facing justice sought by Richard Conte, the vengeful son of a dealer Cobb cheated and crippled. Jules Dassin’s last American movie is a bleak, gritty look at cutthroat, seedy business done by greedy, thieving backstabbers; it presents a dim view of capitalism as one big never-ending swindle with meager (if any) rewards for honest intentions and hard labour. Even Conte’s girl loses interest once he’s robbed, which leaves him with street-wise Valentina Cortese, who’s not the only character revealing a heart of gold and scruples when things get desperate, providing some glimmer of hope and goodness at the end of this noir. Wonderful acting and tense highway action.

…you can see many more bloggers’ discoveries in the Blind Spot Series hosted by Ryan McNeil of The Matinee.

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This month’s Mad Movie Challenge (wherein I get a recommendation from Mike’s Take on the Movies and vice versa) is Many Rivers to Cross.

Robert Taylor is a trapper looking for a place to “plant his seeds,” but he mightily resists being trapped by capable and persistent frontierswoman Eleanor Parker. There’s a man-in-peril “meet cute,” that leads to Taylor being drawn into Parker’s big, messy, loving family (headed by Victor McLaglen), then the frontier version of the Bickersons as Taylor flees, Parker chases, fibs and connives to keep him near, then gives up. It takes a couple of crises–fellow trapper James Arness’ sick baby, and Parker endangered by an Indian raiding party–for Taylor to see the beauty of wife and family. Grizzled Taylor and fiery Parker have good chemistry and believable equals in talent and spirit, and that makes for a fun, oddball adventure romance with plenty of physical comedy and heartwarming situations. For Mike I recommended a Powell & Pressburger favourite, go see what he thought of it.

Some quick thoughts and highlights from the rest of the month’s viewing:

My Clint Eastwood watch-fest continued with Any Which Way You Can, the seedy thriller Tightrope, and super-creepy stalker tale Play Misty for Me, in which Jessica Walter’s unhinged performance gave me the topic I needed for the upcoming Villains blogathon (I’ll also be covering Robert Shaw in The Taking of Pelham 123 for that).

I went on a Richard Dix kick that started with the riveting adventure Roar of the Dragon, and won’t be over until I finally see Cimarron and Stingaree for the first time. Enjoyed all of these, and rank them in this order:

  • Ace of Aces,
  • Day of Reckoning
  • Hell’s Highway
  • The Arizonian
  • American Empire
  • Seven Keys to Baldpate
  • His Greatest Gamble
  • The Tunnel
  • Secret Service
  • The Tunnel
  • Blind Alibi
  • Yellow Dust
  • The Conquerors
  • Shooting Straight

I also watched the remake of Dix’s The Arizonian: The Marshal of Mesa City with George O’Brien was fine, but unfortunately cut out a lot of the valuable little character moments, the opera house setting and songs, and the love triangle/Dix’s brother subplots that made The Arizonian so rich and engaging. I first got to know the likable Richard Dix in his Whistler series and getting into his 30’s movies has been a nice look at his range: rugged action hero, solid and caring patriarch, determined idealist or lovable loser, an acerbic or goofy spin on a throwaway line, he’s good with all of that, in a way you could compare to someone like Harrison Ford. In Ace of Aces he makes a big arc from peacenik to gung-ho fighter pilot to bitter veteran. In Baldpate he’s a “written-it-all” mystery novelist flabbergasted by the nuttier-than-fiction crimes unfolding during his retreat.

Watched a lot of giallo (I got my giallis), with this nice mix of stylish, wicked, Gothic/gaslight/slasher whodunits:

  • The Night Evelyn Came out of the Grave
  • Seven Blood-Stained Orchids
  • The Red Queen Kills Seven Times
  • What Have You Done to Solange?

…plus Eyes of Laura Mars and Tightrope kind of fit into this group. Bonus feature of these gialli and poliziotteschi is playing “spot the J&B Scotch” bottle.

One of my favourite finds this month was John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, in which a gang/race war traps a policeman and prisoners at an abandoned police station, leading to a riveting siege and defense, and bonding of opposites.

Liked Warren Oates in Dillinger, so I followed that with China 9, Liberty 37, very impressive love-triangle, rival-gunfighter spaghetti western also with Fabio Testi, the smooth prof in What Have You Done to Solange?.

Spring and Let the Right One In were two similar stories of lonely, female, immortal “monsters” looking for love. It’s an eternally pre-teen vampire in Right One vs. a man-eating tentacled, skin-shedding siren in Spring, and in both movies the horror is almost incidental to the coming of age or journey of self-discovery stories.

More good sci-fi/horror seen:

  • The Earth Dies Screaming
  • Blood of the Vampire
  • Beyond the Time Barrier
  • The Man Without a Body
  • Taste of Fear
  • Die! Die! My Darling!

Earth Dies Screaming (dir. Terence Fisher) and Time Barrier (dir. Edgar Ulmer) were especially creepy and fascinating, both starting after military pilots land to find Earth drastically different and most of humanity gone. From there Earth Dies Screaming has a small band of survivors fighting an alien invasion while the pilot in Time Barrier finds himself dumped decades into a dim future and resolves to get back to the 60s to change that outcome, a feat not done without some physical complications that make for a startling climactic reveal.

Man Without a Body is surreal, bonkers, mad science fun, in which a dying George Coulouris steals the head of Nostradamus for use in experimental consciousness transfer, but Nostra refuses to play along, going so far as to ruin Coulouris with deliberately awful stock predictions.

I liked Third Man on the Mountain, Disney’s thrilling and beautiful mountain-climbing adventure about a talented youth desperate to prove himself in the face of doubt and discouragement from adults, who themselves have been unable to scale the famous Citadel mountain due to a mix of rivalries, jealousies and bad memories.

If I had to pick the dud of the month, it would be Independence Day: Resurgence; how can something that huge and busy and full of great people be so dull?

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13 thoughts on “March Film Diary”

  1. That’s a lot of movie watching, most impressive. Thieves’ Highway is a very good film and it’s always nice to hear appreciation for it. I also like Many Rivers – it’s not a typical western or a typical Taylor flick but it’s enjoyable and looks good.

    I’m still a novice when it comes to Giallo but there is some great material coming on the market all the time, and in fine editions too – I know what you mean about the J&B bottles, the company must have been a heavy sponsor. See 50s Brit crime movies for a similar phenomenon with Johnnie Walker. 🙂

    I like the look of that horror/sci-fi haul as well even though I haven’t seen all of those myself. Earth Dies Screaming is terrific and a movie I return to periodically. I completely forgot I had a copy (unwatched) of Beyond the Time Barrier, so thanks for the reminder on that one.

    1. Well, less blogging sure has freed up a ton of time for extra movies and other work! No secret I’m a big Robert Taylor fan so Rivers was a nice one to finally see, and Parker was great at comedy.

      The J&B cameos! It’s fun to see how long it takes them to place that bottle in a scene. Strip away the fashion, blood and wicked crimes from giallo (not that you’d want to) and you just have regular whodunits. I like the mash-up of Hammer style with the evergreen gaslighting/back from the dead/revenge plots. I’ve been getting many recommendations so, more to come…

      An Edgar Ulmer documentary on tcm put Time Barrier on my radar, they filmed that at the Texas State Fair futuristic exhibits, so they got these ready-made sets with really interesting triangular designs, that look so good and solid for such a low budget affair.

  2. Glad you enjoyed that Taylor/Parker film. I remember when it was on as a kid, Mom would always watch it and I still hum that song Taylor sings on the trail throughout. lol. Richard Dix is someone I haven’t seen a lot of but glad you are checking out those Giallo films and all things Warren Oates.
    Taste of Fear a fine shocker and Blood of the Vampire could almost be called a Hammer film. Plays like one and very enjoyable.

    1. Blood of the Vampire is more a mad doctor movie than a vampire one, but I’m not complaining–enjoyed, in large part due to the Hammer feel. Warren Oates is such a likable tough guy, and what I’ve seen him in lately really highlights that. Those Dix movies are good, I like the prison/revenge/action thrillers best on that list, good westerns too.

      Liked both Taste of Fear and Die! Die!, the movie that starts as a dark comedy and gets scary thanks to psycho-biddy Tallulah Bankhead.

      Finally thanks for suggesting another good Robert Taylor movie, enjoyed Parker doing this kind of comedy (and pushing Taylor around!)

  3. What a month!
    Super and totally different choices.
    Bonkers is the right word for MAN WITHOUT A BODY a one of a kind
    totally insane cheapie.Try to catch Coulouris in the equally weird WOMANEATER
    BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE great fun as well; love that man encased in ice!
    I like Taylor but cannot love MANY RIVERS TO CROSS-I found Parker totally overbearing.
    Speaking of Taylor I recently watched SAVAGE PAMPAS one of his last Westerns.
    Directed by Hugo Fregonese it’s recently been released in Germany in the 4K Ultra HD process,
    making it the first Western to be released in that format (beating UNFORGIVEN and the 3 10 TO YUMA
    remake.)
    I got the standard 4K remastered Blu Ray and sadly it’s the 96 minute version as opposed
    to the full length 112 minute version.
    It’s an odd combo of historical epic and Spaghetti western-Taylor is very good under the
    circumstances.The film has elements of both WESTWARD THE WOMEN and
    APACHE DRUMS and Aussie actor Ron Randell is excellent as the bad guy-fantastic final
    duel between Taylor and Randell.
    The 4K transfer is OK nothing more.Imperfections have not been erased.
    Speaking of Hugo Fregonese a pal sent me a high def download of the Winnetou movie
    OLD SHATTERHAND (Apache’s Last Battle) It’s the full length version and it’s gorgeous-
    the best of the Winnetou’s.Like SAVAGE PAMPAS it was shot in the 70mm Super panorama
    process. I only mention this Kristina, because you have mentioned interest in the Winnetou’s
    before.I’d love to see the full length version get an English language release.
    I sure wish that Fregonese had directed the Stewart Granger Winnetou’s.
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful and varied viewing list-a real treat to read.

    1. Womaneater must be something– a few other people told me to look for it when I said I was watching Man Without a Body. I’m all for those entertainingly wierd movies, such a blast. In Man they have that eyeball hooked up to tubes and staring at Coulouris. Loved the ending.

      Blood of the Vampire- didn’t say much about it but did enjoy it–colourful, good opening, plot and hunchback.

      Savage Pampas sounds good, and yes I am very curious about the Winnetou movies because some were filmed where relatives live–apparently there’s even a tourist stop there now.

      Lots of fun viewing here and more to explore in every direction!

  4. My, you’ve been a busy gal.

    I saw Thieves’ Highway a few years ago courtesy of Cinematheque Ontario in a noir double bill at Jackman Hall followed by Night and the City. Boy, that was a day. I am constantly reminded of the difference the big screen experience can make in watching a film.

    Love The Arizonian, and the first time I saw it couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling I’d seen it before. Of course, it was The Marshal of Mesa City I was thinking of. It’s a perfectly delightful and acceptable picture, but The Arizonian comes up on top.

    1. It was fun to watch Arizonian and Mesa back to back and see the same lines and situations with different spins by Dix vs. O’Brien–they’re both so likable.

      That’s a nice Dassin double bill! Really enjoy watching Richard Conte in anything, and that whole cast was great, and the action riveting; glad I finally got to see it.

  5. Kristina, I have not seen any of these movies you mentioned.
    Not. A. Single. One.
    I think I barely qualify as a movie blogger, however, thanks movie pals like you I always have a list of exciting titles on hand.

  6. Wow, SOOOOOOO many of those movie I haven’t seen! Just the sf/horror list makes me want to track them all down. And I seriously need to explore more giallo – You’ve given me a good starting point – Thanks!

    1. For the giallo you can start with some of the the ones I saw recently– Blood and Black Lace, Deep Red. Cat O’Nine Tails was a good one too. Saw Suspiria a long time ago and might revisit.

      1. Thanks for the info! I think BLOOD AND BLACK LACE is pretty reasonably priced on Amazon UK and I’m pretty sure that’s a region-free Blu. I’ll seek out the others too, thanks! Saw SUSPIRIA many years ago and need to revisit.

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