Wednesday, November 15, 2017

THE THIN MAN (1934)

Hard-drinking Nick Charles (William Powell) is one of the greatest detectives alive, but he recently married a wealthy industrialist's daughter, Nora (Myrna Loy), so from now on it's smooth sailing!!  No more gumshoeing or hiding in the shadows for him. No siree, Bob! Just a bunch of relaxing, getting drunk as a skunk and gettin' up in his wife's guts...or at least that was the plan.

No matter how hard he fights it, he can't help but get pulled into the case of a married scientist (Edward Ellis) who disappeared around the time his mistress was found murdered. All of New York is abuzz with wild rumors and stories. And to make matters even worse, Nick's beautiful new bride is chomping at the bit to see her famous detective husband in action! Finally, he agrees and after some entertaining snooping around, he has all of the players in the mystery forced to attend a dinner party at his penthouse.  Fireworks ensue.

The murder mystery in THE THIN MAN is entertaining, but the real attraction (and the reason the film endures even to this day) is the on-screen chemistry between Myrna Loy and William Powell.  The two of them together as Nick and Nora Charles really is movie perfection.  The playfulness and quick wit...and the funny faces!  Oh my god, the funny faces they make at each other is the cutest thing that I've seen in a long time.

Quick pace, great mystery, amazing supporting cast, nice use of shadows, clever script (based on an outstanding novel by Dashiell Hammett), outstanding direction by W.S. Van Dyke (a.k.a. "One-Take Woody") who somehow shot this movie in less than 3 weeks!!!  Fun fact: Hammett's novel was originally published in December 1933 and the film premiered five months later in May 1934!  Holy duck-billed platypus testicles, that's fast!!!

If you enjoy classic Hollywood mysteries, then THE THIN MAN is required viewing and the start to a wonderful series that actually has a two sequels that I think are better than the original (parts 2 and 3). Highly recommended.

Part 2 - After the Thin Man
Part 3 - Another Thin Man
Part 4 - Shadow of the Thin Man
Part 5 - The Thin Man Goes Home
Part 6 - Song of the Thin Man

Monday, October 23, 2017

THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980)

"Can you cure me?" "No."

Joseph Merrick has always been a fascinating individual to me.  And David Lynch has always been an artistic hero of mine, so it should come as no surprise that I really like THE ELEPHANT MAN.  Yeah, it's about as historically accurate as DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR?, but who cares?  It's still a great film that transports the viewer into a thought-provoking world of freaks, dark corners, peaks and lows of human behavior, and explores the definition of what it is to be a human being.

After the surrealist opening, we see London Hospital surgeon Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) walking through a carnival.  There have been rumors about a certain freak show attraction known as "The Elephant Man" (played by John Hurt).  He has a grossly enlarged head, thick lumpy skin on his back, an enlarged right arm, a twisted skeleton, and numerous other things physically wrong with him.  The two eventually meet (Hopkins' face in that scene is so sublime that it brought a tear to my eye) and soon "The Elephant Man", whose real name is Joseph Merrick, moves into the London Hospital as a permanent guest.  It is there that the good doctor discovers that inside this monstrous body there is intelligence.  He's emotionally scarred from the abuse and ridicule he's endured, but once he begins to open up Merrick turns out to be a very kind and wonderful man.  Not an animal, a man.  

Writer/director/sound designer David Lynch might be known for his more surrealist works, but THE ELEPHANT MAN is, for the most part, a very straight-forward and skillfully told story.  And the B&W photography is absolutely perfect!  Outside of the actors ages, it's almost impossible to tell when this film was even made!  And speaking of actors...John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins are tremendous in this film!

Overall, THE ELEPHANT MAN is kind of a downer of a movie, but it's still a remarkable achievement and worthy of your time.  Recommended.

Interesting side note: It's rumored that Producer Mel Brooks deliberately went uncredited because he feared that his name in the credits would be a distraction from the serious nature of the film.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)

"I couldn't hear my own footsteps.  It was the walk of a dead man."

Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) has a pretty swell life.  He has a cush job as an insurance salesman (semiannual sales record..twice in a row!), he has a cozy apartment and a nice car.  Then his life is turned completely upside-down when he's introduced to Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck).  An outwardly beautiful woman with the soul of a bull shark.  From the very second they lay eyes on each other, it's fireworks!  I love that first scene with them alone together.  There's so much rapid fire double entendres and shit-talking going back and forth, that I couldn't do anything but sit there grinning like a fool, jealous of the brilliant dialogue written by screenwriters Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler.

Anyway, without him even knowing it, from that very first meeting, Phyllis has her claws sunk into Walter's soul and he's doomed.  He tries to play it cool, but then, when she finally admits that she not only wants his help in murdering her husband, but in also setting up an expensive accident insurance policy on him, Walter topples like a house of cards.  He sacrifices his entire life over some sex...but then again, isn't that the short history of humanity?

DOUBLE INDEMNITY is considered a landmark in American cinema and justifiably so.  At the time it came out, there was pretty much nothing like it in regards to the way it looked (darkness everywhere; dust in the air; the shadows of the Venetian blinds going across Walter to look like prison bars, etc.) and the absolute sordid behavior of the lead characters, especially Phyllis Dietrichson.  She's evil through and through.  Just look at her face while her husband is being brutally murdered.  That subtle look of gratification that goes beyond sexual pleasure and into malevolence is extremely disturbing.  And that's really saying a lot about the acting abilities of Barbara Stanwyck (at least to me, because I think that she is the most beautiful woman to ever grace the silver screen).  She's gorgeous, but at the same time completely repulsive.

Fast pace, venomous dialogue, perfect acting, interesting Los Angeles locations, deep shadows, psychosexual themes, costume design by Edith Head, a Raymond Chandler sighting, extremely influential photography that is still being copied today.  Plus...it has the immortal line "They know more tricks than a carload of monkeys." Holy shit!  Hahaha!

I could go on for hours about DOUBLE INDEMNITY (if I had any friends), but I'll just cut it short and say that it is required viewing by every classic movie fan.
Raymond Chandler (seated)