Archives For Movie Monday

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Warren Beatty (l) and Dustin Hoffman in ISHTAR (d. Elaine May, 1987, Columbia Pictures)

 

ISHTAR (PG-13, 107 min., Columbia Pictures, May 1987)

“Ishtar shall rise again,” Dustin Hoffman proclaimed to the audience on the occasion of Warren Beatty’s AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. It could hardly have been any deader in Box Office or critical opinion in 1987. Roger Ebert gave the film one half star — not even a full star! In his original review (May 15, 1987), Ebert called ISHTAR “a truly dreadful film, a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in comedy.” You can read the whole review here.

Twenty-six years later, the NYT’s A.O. Scott wrote thoughtfully about ISHTAR in a piece about reconsidering Box Office Bombs. Saying that, “ISHTAR has entreated the lexicon  – along with HEAVEN’S GATE, WATERWORLD and HOWARD THE DUCK – as shorthand for large scale cinematic unsuccess. Which is fine, except that ISHTAR is a really good movie that suffered, in its infancy, from very bad press.” Read Scott’s piece here.

Elaine May seems to have suffered the most from the fall out over the film’s 14.4 million dollar gross against a 55.5 millions dollar budget — an extraordinary amount at the time. Rumors about her swirled, blame was assigned. She hasn’t directed since. She once quipped, “If all the people who hate ISHTAR had seen it, I would be a rich woman today.” Thank God she kept writing. I wished she’d kept directing. If the charm, wit and timing of Elaine May have eluded you to this point in your life, watch this clip of May saluting her comedy partner, Mike Nichols, at his AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. It’s a bravura performance.

Director: Elaine May, Writer: Elaine May, Producer: Warren Beatty, Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro, Composer: Dave Grusin, Editors: Richard P. Cirincione, Wiliam Reynolds, Stephen A. Rotter, Production Designer: Paul Sylbert

CAST: Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Adjani, Charles Grodin, Jack Weston, Tess Harper, Carol Kane

Watched on Blu*ray (Sony Home Video)

*Most Mondays I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo

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McMurphy (Jacks Nicholson) and The Chief (Will Sampson) in ONE FLEW OVER THE KUCKOO’S NEST (d. Milos Forman, United Artists, 1975)

 

ONE FLEW OVER THE KUCKOO’S NEST (R, 133 min., color, United Artists, Nov. 21, 1975)

ONE FLEW OVE THE KUCKOO’S NEST is in that elite club of movies that swept all five of the “big awards” at the Oscars. When it won for best picture, actor, actress, screenplay and director at the 1976 Academy Awards, it was the first to have done so since IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934). KUCKOO’S NEST debuted at number 20 on AFI’s original 100 Movies List. It has since slipped to 33. Has it slipped in your estimation?

It’s well known that Kirk Douglas had the rights to the book for many years, acquiring it when he had designs on playing the role of McMurphy. In fact, Kirk Douglas had played McMurphy in a stage adaptation of the book that did not fare well financially. Years later it was Kirk’s son, Michael, who made the project his first as a producer. And what a first time outing it was. Roger Ebert reports seeing Michael Douglas stumble in a daze out into the lobby following the rapturous reception of 3000 people at the film’s Chicago Film Festival Premiere. If he was in a daze that night the next few years of his (and his star, Jack Nicholson’s) career probably seemed like a blur. Those were heady days. Some suggest they were the best years for movies.

CAST: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, William Redfield, Brad Dourif, Sydney Lassick, Scatman Crothers, Dean R. Brooks, Danny DeVito

Watched on Blu*ray (Warner Bros. Home Video)

*Most Mondays I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo

 

 

Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas in the very definition of "meet cute" -- from Ernst Lubitsch's NINOTCHKA (1939, MGM)

Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas in the very definition of “meet cute” — from Ernst Lubitsch’s NINOTCHKA (1939, MGM)

NINOTCHKA (NR, 110 min., B&W, MGM, Nov. 3, 1939)

“This movie is the most sublime and passionate political picture ever made in Hollywood.” This was the assessment of Maurice Zolotow in his 1977 book about Billy Wilder. In later years Wilder would speak insightfully and passionately about “The Lubitsch Touch”. NINOTCHKA was the film that gave him (along with his writing partner at the time, Charlie Brackett) his first up close look at Ernst Lubitsch at work.

It’s the standout comedy in Hollywood’s standout year. Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett would be enough any given day but what makes NINOTCHKA an embarrassment of riches is the cast. Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire sublime, every one. The supporting cast – fantastic. “Garbo Laughs!” MGM’s publicity department came up with NINOTCHKA’s tagline as an obvious nod to the one it used to announce her first talking picture, ANNA CHRISTIE (1930). Greta Garbo does indeed laugh. And so do we.

 

Director: Ernst Lubitsch, Writers: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, Walter Reisch (Screenplay), Melchior Lengyel (Story), Producer: Ernst Lubitsch, Cinematographer: William Daniels, Composer: Werner R. Heymann, Editor: Gene Ruggiero

CAST: Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire, Bela Lugosi, Sig Rugman, Felix Bressart, Alexander Granach

 

Watched on DVD (Warner Bros. Home Video)

*Most Mondays I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo

Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman's THE LONG GOODBYE (UA, 1973)

Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE (UA, 1973)

THE LONG GOODBYE (Rated R, 112 min., Color, Aspect: 2.35:1, United Artists, March 7, 1973)

Dan Blocker (Hoss from TV’s Bonanza) and Robert Altman are one of those Hollywood pairings that doesn’t make sense on paper but makes perfect sense in the broader context of the fellowship of creative people. Altman and Blocker met when the director helmed a few episodes of that very un-Altman-like TV series. Altman wanted his friend to play the role of Roger Wade in THE LONG GOODBYE — and was ready to scrap the whole project when Blocker died suddenly in 1972. (The film is dedicated to Blocker.) Enter Sterling Hayden. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role of Roger Wade. Hayden’s performance feels both powerful and timeless upon every viewing.

In the hands of a lesser script, actors, or director, the conceits of this film would be gimmicky. Blessed with this cast, crew and screenplay — THE LONG GOODBYE is a master work. It’s a testament to how talented artists and craftspeople can break the rules   (the constant, unmotivated camera movement), create inside jokes (the ever changing treatment of the movie’s theme song as both score and source music), play with a sacrosanct genre, and still achieve something sublime.

If nothing else, THE LONG GOODBYE is a time capsule of early 1970s Los Angeles — and a grand, gritty one at that.

Director: Robert Altman, Writers: Leigh Brackett (Screenplay), Raymond Chandler (Novel), Eric Maschitz (Screenplay), Producer: Jerry Bick, Cinematographer: Vilmos Zsigmond, Composer: John Williams, Editor: Lou Lombardo

CAST: Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, David Arkin, Jim Bouton

 

Watched on Bluray from Kino Lorber (20th Century Fox, MGM)

*Most Mondays I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo

Greer Garson and Robert Donat, in his Oscar-winning performance, in GOODBYE MR. CHIPS (MGM, 1939)

GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (NR, 115 min., B&W, MGM, July 28, 1939)

There are a lot of great movies that would qualify for a Back To School Edition of Movie Monday — some fun, some solemn, some sweet, some irreverent, some pretty dark. But surely the progenitor of the fully formed school-based movie genre is this 1939 classic, GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS. Robert Donat won the Best Actor Oscar in that year that is commonly referred to as the greatest year in movies – at least of the Golden Age. Greer Garson had held out for her first role in a Hollywood film – wanting it to be a memorable one. For her patience she was rewarded with the role that earned her an Oscar nomination.

The movie was shot in England at a time MGM was trying to shore up its European business as Germany and Italy were gearing up for war and buying less movies from the U.S. The fragile peace in the world of 1939 was certainly on the mind of CBS radio’s Alexander Woolcott when he reviewed the film thusly:

“In a year in which the great nations of the world are choosing partners for a dance of death, this cavalcade of English youth becomes an almost unbearable reminder of something which in a mad and greedy world may be allowed to perish from the earth. I am here to testify that in my own experience, the most moving of all motion pictures is Goodbye, Mr. Chips.”

Director: Sam Wood, Writers: R.C. Sherriff (Screenplay), Claudine West (Screenplay), Eric Maschitz (Screenplay), James Hilton (Novel) Producer: Sam Wood, Cinematographer: Freddie Young, Composer: Richard Addinsell, Editor: Charles Frend

CAST: Robert Donat, Greer Garson, Terry Kilburn, John Mills, Paul Henreid, Judith Furse

 

Watched on DVD from Warner Home Video

*Most Mondays I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

 

Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo

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Harold Lloyd as “The Boy” in the iconic shot from SAFTEY LAST! (1923)

SAFETY LAST! (NR, 73 min., B&W, Silent, Hal Roach Studios Released April 1, 1923 Pathe Exchange)

He’s been called the third genius of the silent era comedians (behind Chaplin and Keaton). Orson Welles said, “Harold Lloyd – he’s surely the most underrated [comedian] of them all. The intellectuals don’t like the Harold Lloyd character – that middle-class, middle-American, all-American college boy. There’s no obvious poetry to it.” When commenting specifically on Safety Last! Welles said: “As a piece of comic architecture, it’s impeccable.”

The iconic shot of Lloyd hanging from a clock high above a busy city street is part of our shared film vocabulary – even if most people can’t name the film or actor today. But there’s so much more to savor in this film – Lloyd’s fourth feature. Watching Saftey Last! 92 years after its initial release one can only marvel at the both the precision and poignancy of the stunts and story. My twelve year-old son sat next to me and laughed throughout the film’s brisk 73 minutes.

Like many silent era stars, Lloyd’s career dried up after the advent of sound. But he’d managed to maintain ownership of his films and the great success he did have carried him financially for many years until his death in 1971. Robert Wagner writes about Lloyd and his personal relationship with the legendary performer in “You Must Remember This” – a good read if you’re interested in Old Hollywood.

Directors: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor Writers: Hal Roach (Story), Sam Taylor (Story), Tim Whelan (Story), H.M. Walker (Titles), Producers: Kevin Brownlow, David Gill, Jeffery Vance Cinematographer: Walter Lundin Composers: Carl Davis, Don Hulette, Editor: Thomas J. Crizer

CAST: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young, Westcott Clarke

 

Watched on BLU-RAY from The Criterion Collection

*Most Mondays I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo

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Jack Lemon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe in Billy Wilder’s SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)

SOME LIKE IT HOT (NR, 122 min., B&W, Released May 29, 1959 United Artists)

Woody Allen was once asked to name a film he always has to defend not liking. He answered – “Some Like It Hot”.

Some Like It Hot is (in my opinion) the creakiest of the big films in the Billy Wilder Canon. It simply cannot stand up next to Double Indemnity, Stalag 17, Sunset Boulevard, and The Apartment. Yet there it is, coming in on AFI’s Top 100 at #16. And it is almost universally praised and glowingly reviewed.

There are things I like about Some Like It Hot. The inside jokes, for one — the nod to Jules Stein and MCA’s origins, Curtis’s playful Cary Grant impersonation, George Raft playing George Raft. I still marvel at the bawdy jokes and gags they were able to get into the film in 1959. Ms. Monroe’s wardrobe alone is a physics-defying feat worthy of mention. Her performance is sweet and has some nuance to it, sad and poignant in retrospect. I.A.L. Diamond delivers a taut and competent screenplay, but that’s to be expected. His screenplay for The Apartment is flawless.

Some Like It Hot feels to me like a curious museum piece, interesting in part, entertaining at moments, completely of another time. In fairness to the filmmakers the film was made in 1959 and set in 1929. They were having a bit of fun making an “old fashioned” movie about those pre-Crash, Prohibition-skirting, Roaring Twenties. But all that makes it feel that much more of a relic to me.

Wilder’s fondness for kicker last lines is famously on display here. And it is the perfect capper for Jack Lemon’s over the top performance.

 

Director: Billy Wilder, Writers: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond (Screenplay), Robert Thoeren, Michael Logan (Story), Producer: Billy Wilder Cinematographer: Charles Lang Jr. Composer: Adolph Deutsch, Editor: Arthur P. Schmidt

CAST: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft, Pat O’Brien, Joe E. Brown

 

Watched on DVD from MGM Collector’s Series

*Most Mondays I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo