A lot of movies will leave The Criterion Channel come July 31 – and several of them written by Dalton Trumbo. Here are some you may want to catch before August – although some of these may be back on Criterion soon.
A He Ran All the Way (1951)
When I first saw this cheap crime thriller, it blew me away. A violent robbery goes wrong, and a guard is dead. The killer (John Garfield) finds himself in the apartment of a very nice family, including a young adult daughter (Shelley Winters) who’s sweet on this new guy in her life – even when he’s brandishing a gun and keeping the family hostage. Garfield gives one of his best performances as the thick-headed thug who wants to be liked by his victims. Very suspenseful from the beginning to the end. Co-written, without credit, by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo.
A The Conformist (1970)
It takes more than good men doing nothing to create fascism. According to Bernardo Bertolucci’s haunting character study, it also takes mediocre men with career ambitions. Jean-Louis Trintignant is chilling as a bland cog in the machine, ready to use his honeymoon in homicidal service to Mussolini. With Stefania Sandrelli as his not-too-bright bride and Dominique Sanda, in a star-making performance, as the object of everyone’s desire. Read my Blu-ray review.
A The Last Detail (1973)
Jack Nicholson plays the ultimate Jack Nicholson role: a rebel with a short fuse but with a touch of empathy. Two Navy officers (Nicholson and Otis Young) must take a young kleptomaniac to prison on a ridiculously harsh sentence. Randy Quaid as the prisoner carries the story and breaks your heart as the prisoner. He’s sweet, trusting, and naïve, and has now ruined his life. So, the guards try to give him a good time on the way.
A The Leopard (1963)
For a three-hour film where almost nothing happens, Luchino Visconti’s 1963 epic is remarkably spell-binding. The sumptuous Technirama photography helps. Aristocrats led by patriarch Burt Lancaster (with his dialog dubbed into Italian) live through a revolution that rocks Italy’s government, but leaves their lives hardly changed. Visconti shows considerable nostalgia for the days of fancy balls and peasants who knew their place, but also understands why this society must die. Graceful in design, it shows great sympathy for its flawed characters. Read my longer report.
A Spartacus (1960)
This very fictionalized version of the famous Roman slave revolt is simply the most powerful, intelligent, and coherent toga epic from the golden age of toga epics. And yes, I know that sounds like weak praise, but it isn’t. Stanley Kubrick’s only work as a director-for-hire doesn’t give us the glory of Rome, concentrating instead on the horror, cruelty, and exploitation of an empire. Star and Executive Producer Kirk Douglas gave Dalton Trumbo a well-deserved screen credit, which helped end the blacklist. Also shot in Technirama.
A- Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
While everyone else was working hard to fill the new, giant Cinemascope screen, director John Sturges and cinematographer William C. Mellor saw how effective it was to keep it empty. Spencer Tracy stars as a one-armed stranger who comes to a small desert town after World War II and discovers how far people will go to keep a secret.
A- How Green Was My Valley (1941)
John Ford followed The Grapes of Wrath with yet another story about a poor family struggling against the cruelty of capitalism. The Morgans, living in a Welsh coal mining town, are far better off than the Oakies in Grapes…at least they have a small house. But life isn’t easy. There are union strikes, mining disasters, fights, growing up, death, a bad marriage, and a beautiful landscape slowly disappearing. Ford often went overboard with sentimentality, especially with films connected to his Celtic heritage, but he keeps it under control here. The film brought Ford his only Best Picture Oscar and one of his four Best Director Oscars.
B+ Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
This suspenseful heist movie, written by blacklisted screenwriters and directed by Robert Wise, puts you on the edge of your chair. Three desperate men set out to rob a small-town bank. The big problem is that one of them is black (Harry Belafonte), and another is a horrible racist (Robert Ryan). Ed Begley plays the leader who tries to keep them together. The climax gets a little silly, and the last line of dialog is absurdly preachy.
B Band of Outsiders (1964)
I don’t think this Jean-Luc Godard picture would work at all without Anna Karina. She’s not only beautiful, but she has a youthful innocence that overcomes her less-interesting two male co-stars (Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur). The film is at its best when they’re just fooling around with the energy of youth; the dance scene in the restaurant is a great moment in cinema. But we all know from the start that Band will eventually become a crime story, and then evolve into another type of movie altogether.
B Roman Holiday (1953)
Gregory Peck and “introducing” Audrey Hepburn fall in love through an extremely contrived plot in this entertaining romantic comedy. She’s a runaway princess, and he’s a reporter hoping for a scoop. But the real star is Rome; shooting Hollywood films in overseas locations was a new thing in the early 1950s. Directed by William Wyler, from a story by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.
I can’t give you my opinions on the movies below. Either I haven’t seen them, or I saw them before I started writing about every film I saw. I list them because of their reputations.
- The Blue Angel
- The Blue Dahlia
- The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
- The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
- The Men
- The Saddest Music in the World
- That Obscure Object of Desire
- You Only Live Once
You can check out all the films leaving Criterion come August.