3 New-To-Me Classics This Week

Mirage (1965)

I can barely imagine how scary amnesia must be, can you? I just can’t wrap my head around what it would feel like to not remember a thing, not even my name. That’s exactly what happens to David Stilwell (Gregory Peck), corporate accountant in Mirage. The dark, gritty, big-city scenes in Mirage make the prospect of amnesia even scarier. Add some mob-style death threats to the mix and…whew! Just writing that gives me a tinge of anxiety.

After a traumatic event in his office one day, David winds up with amnesia and spends the rest of the movie figuring out who he is, why this thing happened and why certain humans are threatening his very existence. He has no idea. And getting to the answers is quite a ride.

In a panic, David looks everywhere for someone that will help him. Instead of help though, he’s met with a lot of disbelief and distrust that frustrates and frightens him even more. Us viewers too! Eventually he finds a new-to-the-game private detective, Ted Casselle (Walter Matthau)♥ that’s willing to listen to his insane story. Ted’s a big help….until HE gets killed.

Oh, it’s a mess, alright. Mirage is intense. It’s full of terrific performances from actors like Diane Baker, George Kennedy and Kevin McCarthy. It’s well worth the time. I recommend watching it in a dark room for full-affect. Thank goodness our friend Walter, as Ted, is there to ease us through at least part of the story.

Local Hero (1983)

This is, hands down, the most satisfying, calming, peaceful…beautiful….movie I’ve seen all year. Of course I wanted to like Mirage the most this week because of Walter’s presence there, but Local Hero is, by far, my favorite movie….this year! I love this movie and I can’t believe I’d never seen it before. Big mistake on my part to have waited this long.

Felix Happer (Burt Lancaster) is an eccentric oil company executive that thinks he has to build a new refinery for his company. The truth is he really doesn’t care about that. We learn early that he’s more interested in the sky and stars. It’s while he’s planning his daily star gazing that he half-heartedly sends one of his company minions, simply known as Mac  (Peter Riegert), to a tiny fishing village on the ocean in Scotland with the purpose of purchasing it. Then, once Mac gets the residents to agree to the terms of the sale, he’ll destroy it and build the new refinery at the location, like Happer wants. Let’s just say it doesn’t work out this way. Once Mac gets to the village he meets Urquhart (Denis Lawson), the innkeeper at the hotel he’s staying at, (who’s also the town accountant and what we might think of as the mayor of the village), he starts to see how much he appreciates the way of life in the village. Residents are content, but don’t have a lot of money and all but one of them easily agrees to and looks forward to making money from this deal. Mac, however, has fallen under the spell of the place and struggles with the entire thing. It’s when Happer comes to the village to meet Ben, the last obstacle to the sale, that a resolution is presented. This is a David v. Goliath tale, small town v. big city, humanity v. corporate….name it what you want…I call it a beautiful movie.

 

Naked City (1948)

Of these three movies, this one is probably my least favorite. I did like it though and I’m glad I finally watched it…it’s been on my watch list for years. Naked City kept me interested and even intrigued in some places, but I often found myself wanting to know more about these detectives. That clearly wasn’t the point of Naked City, though. It was meant to tell the specific story of a murder case in New York City, and it did it very, very well. If you like crime documentaries, chances are  you’ll like this. Directed by Jules Dassin in 1948 for Universal, Naked City is a gritty, documentary-style, film that meticulously follows a New York City murder case. We watch as Lt. Dan Muldoon’s (Barry Fitzgerald) manages the case with his team of detectives, and I have to say, it was Fitzgerald’s performance that held me to the story. He almost, ALMOST reminds me of Columbo, in that he pretends he doesn’t quite comprehend what’s going on. But like Columbo, he does. He absolutely does. This character makes the movie for me.

Charley Varrick, 1973

And now we return to my regularly scheduled Walter Matthau obsession….

Movie poster for 1973’s Charley Varrick.

Charley Varrick is another Walter Matthau movie I’ve discovered and loved this year. Sure, I’ve seen Charade umpteen times, The Bad News Bears and the Grumpy Old Men movies over the years, but I never really went beyond those. (Shameful!) No, my obsession with Matthau’s movies didn’t happen until 2020. We can place the blame for this new obsession squarely on the lap of Barnes and Noble and specifically, the Criterion Collection section of their store. Before the pandemic started, I was in the store browsing that collection one day when Walter Matthau’s unique face jumped off the rack at me in the form of the DVD cover for his movie, Hopscotch (1980). I’d never heard of it, let alone seen it, but I bought it anyway, based on the description on the back of the DVD. Of course the movie was fantastic, I absolutely loved it, but it was the Dick Cavett interview on that DVD with him that made me fall in love with Walter Matthau. Smart, funny, subdued, engaging and a truly nice man. What’s not to love?

I turned into a Walter Matthau movie fangirl immediately. I’ve been collecting his movies ever since I found Hopscotch and that interview….they are likely the reason why this home-bound girl in a pandemic has not completely melted down into a puddle of doom.  Or gone on a multi-state crime-spree….but anyway….

Add Charlie Varrick to my list of much-loved Walter Matthau movies.

Based on the novel, The Looters, by John Reese, Charley Varrick is a traditional crime caper. Matthau plays a stunt pilot/crop duster that robs banks for money with his wife, Nadine (Jacqueline Scott) and a fiercely greedy guy named Harman (Andrew Robinson). Charley, Nadine and Harman rob a small bank in Trec Cruces, New Mexico. It turns out bad in that Nadine is shot and killed by police during the getaway. It goes bad again once Charley realizes that the money they stole was probably Mob money. Why else would that much money be hiding in a small-town bank in the middle of nowhere? He wonders. And he decides he wants nothing to do with any of the cash. Harman has other ideas. So does the mob. Mr. Molly (Joe Don Baker), the mobster sent to deal with these robbers and boy is he vicious.

With the realization of what they’ve done, there’s a cleverness in Charley’s calm plotting and planning that makes me wonder just how much of this he had planned from the beginning. Hmmmm…… I read somewhere that Matthau himself didn’t like Charley Varrick much because it required a lot of thinking on the viewer’s part. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I, for one, loved it, including the wonder of how much Charley really knew.

Charlie Varrick was directed and produced by Don Siegel (you might know him for Dirty Harry) for Universal Studios in 1973.

 

 

Three Films, Same Story, Loads of Fun

The Front Page (1931), His Girl Friday (1940) and The Front Page (1974)

I love all three of these movies. His Girl Friday, with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell was the very first classic movie I ever saw. I was 12 or 13 years old, spending the weekend with my wheelchair-bound grandmother on their farm, as I often did. Grandma loved these old movies. LOVED them. She’d watch any black and white movie that came over the air on the local PBS station at any time they were on…and she watched a lot of them. I’m so grateful to have been a part of that love! I’ll never forget that day I first saw His Girl Friday, my very first classic film I ever saw it was an autumn Saturday afternoon with a lot of sun that threw a glare over the itty bitty 13″ screen of their black and white TV. Grandma pulled up to the kitchen table in her wheel chair, and I sat in the chair next to her as we watched the movie on that little TV that lived on the cart Grandpa made just for it so Grandma could watch it comfortably. We had a blast. She said before it started, “I think you might get a kick out of Cary Grant.” I was so young, but she was right. I did not want this movie to end. I was instantly hooked on His Girl Friday  that day…and these movies…for life. I’m more grateful than ever that I have a memory like this that I get to keep with me always. I will always be aware of where my love for classic movies comes from….Grandma.

Oh, Grandma’s all time favorite actress? Myrna Loy (Mrs. ((Nick)) Charles). Grandma rocked.

All three of these movies share the same plot: an always pushy, often obnoxious, newspaper editor goes through scores of shenanigans to keep his top reporter from quitting the paper and running away with the love of his/her life. Walter needs his reporter to promote readership and make more money! He sees an in for his cause when Hildy can’t help himself/herself but be intrigued by the latest criminal caper. Let the chaos begin! Every version of the movie is a screwball comedy with a heavy dose of farce and they’re all worth spending time with if you want to laugh. All three of them include rapid-fire dialogue given to us by excellent actors that are a pleasure to be around. The movies were all based on the story written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Three cheers for them! Yes, there were several TV shows and a play or two that were all based on this same story, but these movies are exactly what a classic films fangirl like me loves the most.

1931

The Front Page, 1931 from United Artists, stars Adolphe Menjou as Walter Burns and Pat O’Brien as Hildy Johnson. It was directed by Lewis Milestone for United Artists. This version of the film was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Actor for Adolphe Menjou, Best Director for Lewis Milestone and another one for Best Picture.  This one has the distinction of being the only pre-code version of the story. I was THRILLED to see my all-time favorite character actor, Frank McHugh here as one of the reporters.

1940

His Girl Friday, 1940 from Columbia Pictures, stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. It was directed by Howard Hawks for Columbia Pictures.  This is the only one of the three movies where Hildy (Russell) is a female version of the powerhouse reporter that Walter would do anything to keep even though she desperately wants to quit. Ralph Bellamy is nothing short of loveable here as Hildy’s fiance, Bruce Baldwin. He can keep up with Cary Grant’s demeanor pretty well! Intimidating as he is….(wink)

In the 1974 The Front Page, it’s Jack Lemmon who plays Hildy to Walter Matthau’s Walter Burns. And oh yeah, Billy Wilder directs this version. The movie was nominated for a Best Picture Golden Globe in 1975 and Both Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon were nominated for Best Actor at the Golden Globes in 1975. Anytime Matthau and Lemmon appear together, I’m in. I love watching them both, especially when they’re onscreen together. Together, they are always able to create the magic that is the epitome of what I love about these movies. Shhhhh, don’t tell Grandma, but this one’s my favorite.

 

6 Favorite Movies From The 60s

May 16th is National Classic Movie Day! I love any reason to celebrate classic movies, and this is a fun way to do it. Thank you to Rick at the Classsic Film & TV Cafe for hosting this, The 6 From The 60s blogathon. The guidelines for this blogathon are simple: list your six favorite films from the 1960s and explain why they deserve such an honor! This post is my entry. I love comedies and the common thread running through these movies is that they made and still do make me laugh every time I watch them.

You can see all the blogathon entries by clicking here. I’m looking forward to seeing the other movies that have the honor of being someone’s “favorite!”

It’s no surprise that Walter Matthau shows up in three of the movies here, and that Jack Lemmon is in two of them. Watching these two just makes me so happy.

1-The Odd Couple, 1968

Why is The Odd Couple one of my favorite movies from the 60s? The friendships. It’s displayed in every scene. I see it and feel it from every character and it’s pure comfort for me. I admit, anything with Walter Matthau is good for me. Especially The Odd Couple.  From the poker game scenes, to the date with the neighbors, to the scenes with just a frustrated Oscar (Walter Matthau) and frustrated Felix (Jack Lemmon). Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon play these characters in such a way that we care about them both. Even though Felix’s neurotic nature makes us nuts, we care about what happens to him.  Even though Oscar is sloppy, we admire him and the way he carries himself. I love this movie for the kindness I see when I watch it. It’s sometimes sarcastic and playful, a little bit serious and painful, but the underlying kindness is always evident to me, even when they’re mad at each other. Despite all of the things that can and do go wrong, they all still care about each other in the end. And it’s funny as hell.

2-Cactus Flower, 1969

Why is Cactus Flower one of my favorite movies from the 60s? It’s a meaningful story chock-full of a lot of reasons to laugh from likable characters. Julian Winston (Walter Matthau), is a dentist that lies about being married to avoid commitment to marriage with Toni (Goldie Hawn). Nurse Dickinson (Ingrid Bergman) is there, thankfully, to keep Julian organized and to eventually set everything straight. All three actors, Walter Matthau, Goldie Hawn and Ingrid Bergman play off each other like they’ve done it for years….and this is Goldie Hawn’s first movie! Cactus Flower is a lot of fun!

Did I mention Ingrid Bergman was in it? She does comedy so well. I did not expect this, but oh my, is she good at it. Ingrid Bergman steals the show for me. And it’s wonderful!

3-Bachelor in Paradise, 1961

Why is Bachelor in Paradise one of my favorite movies from the 60s? It’s a gorgeous glimpse into mid-century American culture embedded in an interesting story line. I wrote about this movie here a few weeks ago because it’s always had such a positive effect on me. Lana Turner is wonderful.

From my April 10, 2020 post:

Bachelor in Paradise is light-hearted, mid-century comedy that has the power to make me laugh out loud and forget about things for a couple of hours. It’s filled with glorious mid-century decor, fashion and lifestyle. This movie doesn’t pretend to be a deep, societal observation, but there is an important feminist message here, especially for 1961, I suspect, mostly delivered to us via Bob Hope’s peppy narrating as Niles. Lana Turner’s beautiful, independent intelligence as Rosemary, along with the intelligent, thoughtful women of the neighborhood, make this one of my all-time favorite movies.

And yeah, it’s funny!

4-Charade,1963

Why is Charade one of my favorite movies from the 60’s? Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.

The end.

5-Some Like It Hot, 1959

Why is Some Like It Hot one of my favorite movies from the 60’s? It’s rhythm. It clips along at a good pace with a plot that keeps me engaged by always wondering what in the world could possibly happen next. It’s one of the best movie-watching experiences I can think of. Paying attention to the three main characters-Joe (Tony Curtis), Jerry (Jack Lemmon), and Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) is easy because they’re all sincerely likeable and engaging. They’re good people that I find myself rooting for every time I watch this. From the first scene where Joe and Jerry  witness the Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929 to that sweet ending, everything that happens moves along so….perfectly? I never find myself cringing, bored or rushing to get it over with. It feels like a brave movie too, and I like that it takes chances. This movie feels like it’s been thoroughly thought out and put together so well by the director (Billy Wilder) and writers (Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond) that actors that just melt into the story. It’s perfect. But then, that’s Billy Wilder for ya.

6-The Thrill of it All, 1963

Why is The Thrill of it All one of my favorite movies from the 60s? Because Doris Day plays a character, Beverly Boyer, that comes up against sexism and still makes her own decisions in the face of it. Despite the chaos it causes her within her family, she follows her heart. That takes guts now, let alone in the 1960s. Her husband, Dr. Gerald Boyer (Garner) is not happy about any of what she decides to do, and he makes it difficult for her. Still, I love that everything that happens here is ultimately Beverly’s decision and not her husband’s. Even in the end. Some have called this movie sexist, and there is an overall atmosphere of it, but she’s successfully navigating through it on her own terms. It isn’t always fun for her and every step she takes is a challenge, but she does it, and it’s inspiring. On top of that, The Thrill of It All is hilarious!

That pool scene…..

The chemistry between Doris Day and James Garner is addictive. I wish they’d done more movies together.

Thank you to Rick at Classic Film and TV Cafe for hosting 6 From The 60s!

What’s YOUR favorite movie from the 1960s?

Hopscotch – Based on the Book By Brian Garfield

Hopscotch, 1980, Directed by Ronald Neame, Produced by Edie & Ely Landau Inc.

TCM | Amazon

The screenplay for Hopscotch was written by Brian Garfield, who wrote the book the movie is based on.

Amazon

“Hopscotch never pretended to be anything but a light-hearted comedy,” Ronald Neame, Director. “It’s a comedy-thriller.”

“We wanted to show that you could tell a suspense story like this where no one gets killed,” Brian Garfield, writer.

They did. And it’s wonderful.

Roger Ebert once called Hopscotch, starring Walter Matthau as Miles Kendig and Glenda Jackson as Isobel von Schmidt,  “pleasant.” I call it a pure delight. Laughter and suspense are hand-in-hand throughout the movie, and they carry the plot along with them perfectly. I saw this movie for the first time recently, and have since watched it several times because it is such a pleasure. I’m writing this in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and I can’t tell you how much I just love being lost inside the Hopscotch world right now. This escape factor is a good illustration of why movies like these are so important to me.

Ned Beatty plays Kendig’s nemesis, G.P. Myerson. He’s the new head man at the CIA department Kendig works in and is an arrogant, nincompoop bureaucrat. Beatty is great in making us despise him right from the start. The tension begins with Myerson being upset with Kendig. Seems Kendig had a chance to “dismantle” the Russian network in Germany (and make Myerson look good because of it) but didn’t. Kendig didn’t arrest the top Russian spy Myerson wanted him too because he thought it was a better idea to keep a relationship with him so they could better keep an eye on what he was up to. Myerson uses the incident as a reason to take the aging Kendig out of the field….and out of his way. He sends him to a desk job and Kendig is devastated. After thinking about it for what seemed like a second, and a suggestion from that same Russian friend/counterpart, Kendig decides to write his memoirs instead of take that desk job.

He immediately flies to Austria to meet with Isobel, a former love, to ask for her help. Kendig meeting Isobel at a restaurant, and the detailed conversation they have about wine, reveals the plot, and chemistry between the two that makes the movie doubly satisfying. You can’t help but root for them from the very beginning.  Isobel was not a character in the book and was created just for the movie. Thanks to her,  he’s able to implement his plan to perfection. It’s a little more complicated than that in the book when he tries to do it without her.

It took some convincing, Isobel wasn’t supportive at first, but Myles pouted until she gave in (who wouldn’t?) and got him a typewriter.

With Mozart records playing in the background, Kendig began to write about his detailed CIA missions. He sent the CIA, and other spy agencies in the world, one chapter at a time as he completed them. It drove Myerson crazy. Kendig realized, as he wrote, that he’d never go back. This realization amped up his game. He led them on a chase across the U.S. and Europe, always one step ahead of them and everything they assumed he’d do.

“Writing this makes me realize I’ll never go back.” Watch this portrait of Myerson through the scenes in the house. It goes from this smile to frowns as Kendig makes things worse for him.

At that first meeting in Myerson’s office, Kendig overheard him talking to his wife about their vacant house in Savannah, Georgia. Of course that house became an entry on Kendig’s agenda of mayhem! He rented it, used it as a place to write a couple more chapters…..and to provoke Myerson, who had to call in in the FBI for help. That had to hurt. And then it got worse for Myerson. Together, the FBI and CIA gassed and shot up the house, destroying it, while assuming Kendig was inside. They proved they were out to kill him. He wasn’t wasn’t inside. Another clever ploy.

Kendig keeps writing and sending out chapters one by one while hopping back and forth over two continents. Meanwhile, the CIA becomes more and more desperate to stop him.

“What are you trying to prove?” – CIA Agent Cutter (Sam Waterston)

“I’m just trying to have some fun,” Kendig.

Boy is it fun to watch him accomplish this. Every single thing that happens is specifically planned for a result that takes them to the next thing that makes the CIA look foolish. Everything is carefully laid out to create the most mayhem. He is successful on all accounts. It’s suspenseful, yes, but it’s hilarious too…..and extremely satisfying to watch.

Brian Garfield also wrote Death Wish in 1972. It was turned into a movie starring Charles Bronson in 1974 with Wendell Mayes writing the screenplay. In an interview for Hopscotch, Garfield implied he hadn’t been too happy with “other books that had gone to movies” so he took a bigger role in this one. It worked. He helped give us a terrific movie.  “The motivation for the main character is that he wants to have fun instead of a desk job,” he said. “This movie was a delight all the way around.”

I agree.

P.S. The Criterion Collection DVD is terrific and includes interviews with Ronald Deame, Brian Garfield and Walter Matthau.