At the end of every month, The Criterion Channel removes a considerable number of films from their streaming platform. Here are some I suggest catching before April Fool’s Day.
A The Killing (1956)
Stanley Kubrick started his Hollywood career with this crackerjack noir heist thriller. A career criminal (Sterling Hayden) orchestrates a complex racetrack robbery likely to net two million 1956 dollars. But he needs collaborators, and that means human frailty will get in the way. Hayden’s rat-a-tat-tat delivery does wonders for snappy, pulp-heavy dialog like “You’d be killing a horse – that’s not first-degree murder. In fact, it’s not murder at all. In fact, I don’t know what it is.” Read my longer report.
A Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Burt Lancaster risked his career to produce this exploration of the seamy side of fame. He plays New York gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker – a truly repellent and despicable person who happily bathes in the adulation and fear of those around him. Tonight’s main victim: a whiny Broadway press agent desperate to get his client into Hunsecker’s column (Tony Curtis in a great performance). To make things worse, Hunsecker–who’s based loosely on Walter Winchell–has a rather too-close relationship with his kid sister. From a script by Clifford Odets and Ernest (North by Northwest) Lehman.
A Day for Night (1973)
François Truffaut’s love letter to all the pain and joy of cinema. Truffaut himself plays a director shooting a romantic tragedy in Nice, and everything goes wrong. Extras don’t move as they should. An alcoholic actress makes the same mistake take after take. A kitten refuses to go to a saucer of milk on cue. And, of course, people constantly fall in and out of lust. A sweet, warm comedy most of the time, the tone turns effortlessly serious in the last half hour. The cast includes Jacqueline Bisset as an international star and Jean-Pierre Léaud as a hopelessly immature leading man.
A All About Eve (1950)
Here’s your chance to explore the sordid ambition behind Broadway’s glamour – and by implication, Hollywood’s. Anne Baxter plays the title character, an apparently sweet and innocent actress whom aging diva Bette Davis takes under her wing. But Eve isn’t anywhere near as innocent as she appears. Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
A- Johnny Guitar (1954)
Nicolas Ray’s 1954 low-budget western has to be the weirdest oater made before Blazing Saddles. Stagy and talkie, it’s filled with outrageous dialog and fanciful names (Johnny Guitar, the Dancin’ Kid). The women behave like conventional western men, and the men act kind of like traditional women. You can’t help noticing the cheap production methods, including obviously painted exterior backgrounds and shots that don’t match. Johnny Guitar is about as realistic as an opera. But like an opera, the stylization is part of the art. Read my Blu-ray review.
Pedro Almodóvar’s strangely sexy comedy is the most immoral, offensive, and politically incorrect movie I have ever enjoyed. A handsome former matador (Nacho Martínez), missing the thrill of the bullfight, now kills women for pleasure. Meanwhile, a beautiful lawyer (Assumpta Serna) gets her kicks by murdering men. When these two finally meet, will it be a lifelong commitment? A very young Antonio Banderas plays the young innocent caught between them. Matador shines a light, even if it’s a playful one, at the darkest side of human sexuality.
B+ Terror in a Texas Town (1958)
I sometimes look down at B westerns, but this one deserves watching. True, the hired killer (Nedrick Young) only wears black, but he has only one good hand along with some very strange things going around in his head. More importantly, the hero is a Swedish whaler (Sterling Hayden) who comes to town to live with his father; but his father is soon murdered. There’s a touch of High Noon in the story, but just a touch. Directed by Joseph H. Lewis of Gun Crazy fame, from a screenplay by the great blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, using the pen name “Ben L. Perry.”
B No Way Out (1950)
This is what a message movie looked like in the middle of the 20th century. Sidney Poitier plays the hero, but he doesn’t get star billing. He plays a new doctor in the County Hospital, where he must deal with a family of racist criminals led by Richard Widmark. Things get worse when one of the criminals dies in Poitier’s care. There’s a riot, but we only hear people talk about it. Some extremely implausible incidents ruin the last act. Warning: The n-word is used frequently. Directed and partly written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
Movie of historical interest
B- Cleopatra (1963)
At over four hours, this widescreen epic clocks in as the longest single theatrical release by a major American studio. And at an estimated 40 million in 1963 dollars, it’s probably the most expensive. You can see much of that money in the huge and spectacular sets filled with thousands of extras. The first section stars Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar as if he’s doing a George Bernard Shaw play. After the intermission, Richard Burton takes over as Mark Antony, playing bad Shakespeare. The final hour or so is tediously boring. Must I tell you that Elizabeth Taylor plays the great queen.
Likable films I don’t remember
I’ve seen, and liked, all these films, but that was long ago. I don’t remember them well enough for me to write about them.
You can also see all the films that will go away come April.