At the end of every month, the Criterion Channel trims its collection of films to make room for others (probably because of contract issues). Thankfully, they give us warning, so we can watch a film before it goes away.
If you’re a Criterion subscriber, catch some of these before you wake up and discover it’s April.
A The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
This just might be the best science fiction film of the 1950s (or at least a tie with the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers). A happily married man starts shrinking–the result of a strange cloud. Medical science can’t help, but he keeps getting smaller. Eventually, a housecat, and later a spider, become deadly adversaries. The existential ending is like nothing you’d expect from a Universal B-picture of the 1950s. With a few exceptions, the special effects are exceptional for its time. Screenplay by Richard Matheson, from his own novel.
A Lolita (1962)
I’m not sure if Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel is a very funny tragedy or a very sad comedy, but it’s certainly about reprehensible people. James Mason carries the tragic vibe as the intellectual obsessed with a teenage girl but who cares only for himself. Peter Sellers is very funny as his rival for the underage prize. Shelley Winters plays Lolita’s horny mother. And yet, with all that talent, the very young Sue Lyon holds the film together as the title character. Kubrick and his collaborators found ingenious ways to get around the censorship of the day.
A The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Bad dreams keep bothering Korean War veterans Lawrence Harvey and Frank Sinatra. Were they brainwashed by Communists? And where do the rabid anti-Communists fit in? Easily the best political thriller to come out of the cold war, The Manchurian Candidate finds villains on both political extremes. As the nominal hero, Sinatra proves he really was an actor, but Angela Lansbury steals the film as cinema’s most evil mother – a woman of outsized beliefs and a burning hatred of anyone who disagrees with her. Read my latest Blu-ray review.
A Nosferatu (1922)
Forget about sexy vampires; the first film version of Dracula doesn’t have one. In this unauthorized rip-off that got the filmmakers into legal trouble, Max Schreck plays Count “Orlok” as a reptilian predator in vaguely human form. This 1922 silent isn’t the scariest monster movie ever made, but it just might be the creepiest. Not to be confused with Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake. Read my Blu-ray review.
A Badlands (1973)
Terrence Malick’s first feature introduced us to one of the most daring and unique filmmakers to ever work for Hollywood. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek (very young at the time) play lovers who go on a shockingly casual killing spree; it never seems to occur to them that they’ve done anything wrong. Told through Spacek’s first-person narration, we get the impression at times that it’s little more than a camping trip. Beautifully photographed (of course), Badlands leaves you feeling shocked, confused, sympathetic, and terrified.
A- The Cameraman (1928) [corrected the year]
Buster Keaton’s first film at MGM, his first without creative control, and his penultimate silent, comes close to being among his best. This story of a tintype photographer trying to break into the movie newsreel business provides plentiful opportunities for befuddlement, extended comic routines, and Keaton’s patented pratfalls. And yet, you can tell that something is different. The story is very much MGM.
A- Monsoon Wedding (2001)
Not quite comedy, not quite drama, and not quite Bollywood. Mira Nair puts together several narrative strands as families come together for an arranged Indian marriage where old and new collide. The bride and groom have never met, but the bride has a good career and a married lover. Things go bad for almost everyone, usually in a comedic way, although one strand of the story becomes dark and serious. A very entertaining movie all around.
B+ The Wicker Man (1973)
This is a tough film to write about without spoiling everything. It’s also quite difficult to tell who you should be rooting for until you’re deep into the story. A policeman (Edward Woodward) flies from mainland Scotland to a small island to investigate a missing child. Strangely, no one seems upset about the disappearance. The people on the island are all Pagans, which is a problem because the policeman is a Christian fanatic who responds to a different religion with narrow-minded hatred. Christopher Lee plays the local Lord, and Britt Ekland is there to look good without clothes.
B Barefoot in the Park (1967)
As you’d expect from Neil Simon, the one-liners are often funny but rarely believable (he wrote the screenplay from his own stage play). And yes, it’s fun to watch Jane Fonda and Robert Redford when they were both young and gorgeous–and already good actors. They play a newly-married couple who find that the first few days after the honeymoon turn rocky. They have a lousy apartment. She just wants to make a home out of their lousy apartment and have constant sex, but he’s much more practical. (I suspect this is the most sexist film Fonda ever made – yes, more than Barbarella.) Charles Boyer and Mildred Natwick play an older couple falling in love.
B- Imitation of Life (1934)
As melodrama or straight entertainment, this Fannie Hurst story (inspired by the creation of the Aunt Jemima company) works reasonably well. But if you’re interested in the history of race relations in American culture, you don’t want to miss this one. The story of a long and profitable friendship between two women–one white, one black–was way ahead of its time in 1934, even though it’s way behind where we are today.
And here are some that I saw long ago and liked. Or that I haven’t seen but want to.
- Barbarella (1968)
- Cat Ballou (1965)
- The China Syndrome (1979)
- Hallelujah (1929)
- The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
- Peeping Tom (1960)
- He Who Gets Slapped (1924)
You can also check out all 71 films that will go away come April.