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.
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?