Movies I’ve Recently Seen: The Searchers ֍ Panic in the Streets ֍ Passing and ֍ Soup to Nuts

For various reasons, I haven’t seen a movie in a theater recently. So here are three old movies and one new one that’s already streaming.

A- The Searchers (1956)

The last time I wrote about The Searchers, I gave it a B. That’s a pretty low grade for what many consider John Ford’s masterpiece. Seeing it again, I thought it much better than the last time. A bitter and racist Civil War veteran (John Wayne) and a mixed-race young man (Jeffrey Hunter) spend years searching for a young girl kidnapped by Comanches. Over the years, it becomes obvious that if she’s alive, she’s no longer “white.” For the older searcher, this is worse than death. For the younger, half-breed searcher, the job now is to protect the girl from his companion. The film’s big problem, and I’m not the first to say is, that we never get a scene of the girl in her Comanche life. Easily John Wayne’s best performance.

B+ Panic in the Streets (1950)

This is a strange film to watch during a pandemic. A ruthless killer (Jack Palance in his first big screen performance) murders a man dying of pneumonic plague. Richard Widmark plays the military doctor whose job it is to contain the likely disaster–which includes finding the criminals (oh if it was that easy in real life). Set and shot in New Orleans, the suspense tightens by the minute. The terrific climax is exceptional. Zero Mostel plays a nicer criminal.

C Passing (2021)

It’s a powerful idea for a film: Two African American women, old friends, passing as white in 1920’s New York. But they’re as different as June and December. One is married to a wealthy bigot; her life is a complete sham. The other only occasionally passes. Most of the time, she lives in Harlem with her Black husband and children. But director/co-writer Rebecca Hall focuses mostly on the wrong woman. While most of the story is set in Harlem, the woman married to the bigot is the most interesting one. What’s more, the film has a constant tempo that makes the film dull. It’s in narrow-screen black-and-white to help re-create the 1920s.

F Soup to Nuts (1930)

How often have you found a feature comedy without a single laugh. The star, Ted Healy, is neither funny nor likeable. He apparently knew this, because he hired several slightly-more funny comedians to provide the dull jokes. Amongst them are Moe Howard, Shemp Howard, and Larry Fine – although they were not yet billed as The Three Stooges. The most interesting thing about the movie is that cartoonist Rube Goldberg co-wrote the screenplay; and some of his contraptions appear in the film. But even Goldberg couldn’t make this funny.