#273 Fantastic Voyage

Watched: July 27 2020

Director: Richard Fleischer

Starring: Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Donald Pleasence, Edmond O’Brien, Arthur O’Connelly, William Redfield, Arthur Kennedy, Jean Del Val

Year: 1966

Runtime: 1h 40min

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During the cold war, an important scientist is nearly assassinated, and ends up in a coma.

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Then, to add insult to injury, someone glued a bunch of numbers and letters on his head. For shits and giggles. At least they’re all responsibly wearing masks.

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Surgery to repair the trauma to his brain proves to be too dangerous, and his knowledge is invaluable (if he still retains it), so naturally they come up with the only possible solution: shrink a crew of surgeons, captains, security people etc., and send them into the scientist’s blood stream in a submarine. With a possible traitor. And a laser.

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Why on earth didn’t they just send the surgeon in with the crew who went in to install all the lighting? Would have saved them hours.

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Inside the comatose man (sounds slightly illegal..?), Grant, Cora, the doctors and the rest of the crew encounter many obstacles. Chief among them being antibodies, arteriovenous fistula (learned a new word!), sabotage and sound. Not to mention cobwebs…

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Behold: the consequence of all the spiders you have accidentally consumed throughout your life!

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Fantastic Voyage is a fun and thrilling adventure film which has spawned many a spoof, parody and tribute. We loved the ’60s aesthetics, the disclaimer and title sequence, the lava lamp blood stream, generally everything to do with the design.

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Journey to the Centre of the Lava Lamp

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The plot was also intriguing and exciting, though we did unfortunately peg the traitor from the beginning. We were hoping for a double bluff, but alas!

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Spoiler alert: the saboteur is somewhere in this picture…

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Is it scientifically accurate? Probably not. We’re not physicians or physicists, but our basic understanding of human biology informs us that some artistic liberties may have been taken. However, it is very entertaining and just a tiny bit silly. Definitely worth a watch.

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Then, imagine these guys swimming inside of you. Among the cobwebs…

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What we learned: Humanity has NOT focused enough energy on the development of shrinking technology. Get your priorities straight, science people!

Next time: Gambit (1966)

#217 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Watched: January 11 2019

Director: John Ford

Starring: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, Woody Strode

Year: 1962

Runtime: 2h 03min

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Shinbone, somewhere in the Wild West. Senator Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) and his wife Hallie (Miles) arrive to attend the funeral of old friend and town loner Tom Doniphon (Wayne). Together with former sheriff Link Appleyard (Devine), they recount to reporters the reason they returned to pay their last respects to Doniphon.

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“That man could grow a cactus like no one I ever met.”

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Flash back 25 years, and Stoddard is an idealistic lawyer ready to start his practice in the then lawless Shinbone. On the way into town, his stagecoach is ambushed by local gang leader Liberty Valance (Marvin). After refusing to yield to the bully, Stoddard is brutally beaten and left to die in the desert. He’s found by Doniphon and nursed back to health by Hallie.

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“I have a good mind to throw this dish in your face, you dirty rotten scoundrel, you!”

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Once he recovers his strength, Stoddard decides to go ahead and open his law practice, as well as start a school to teach all the locals to read, something Valance is not happy with. Doniphon tries to tell Stoddard that he needs to use force in order to deal with the outlaw, but Stoddard is sure that the only way is the way of the law. Meanwhile, romance blossoms between “Ranse” and Hallie, although Doniphon is also in love with the only eligible woman in town.

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After all, Hallie is of Norwegian ancestry. We’re scientifically proven to be irresistable [citation needed].

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a wonderful and tense Western where philosophies collide with the transition from old to new ideals. On the one hand, we have the old west represented by the rugged, stoic and righteous gunslinger Doniphon, and on the other we have the new hero and male ideal: the educated, sensitive and refined Stoddard.

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The two have much to learn from each other…

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Stoddard woos the girl and wins over the townspeople by teaching them about history and politics, and how to better themselves. Meanwhile, badass macho man Doniphon protects them with force and his own form of love: he works hard to build his farm in order to have something to offer Hallie, but he never actually got around to asking her to marry him, or to ask her what she actually wanted from him.

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She might have married him ages ago if he ever actually thought to ask her

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There are some not-so-subtle references to all men being created equal, which would have been very timely in 1962 and, sadly, also in 2019, and which we absolutely loved. We also loved James Stewart, but then again, we always do…

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Even injured and in an apron, 10/10 would marry!

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This movie has it all: sassy women (mother more than daughter), bad criminals, intriguing politics, a stoic gunslinger, a young idealistic educated man, a love interest, and a bumbling town marshal. And once again, we find ourselves loving a Western classic. Fantastic stuff!

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He’s only an elected official – he can’t make decisions on his own!

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What we learned: That they used “dude” in the 1800s in the Wild West. Also, a beer is not drinking.

Next time: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

#97 D.O.A.

Watched: April 17 2017

Director: Rudolph Maté

Starring: Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 23min

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Frank Bigelow (O’Brien) has a problem. He has been murdered. However, he is still alive, waiting for the poison in his system to do its job. As any sane man would, he takes it upon himself to investigate his own murder, which leads him into a world of conspiracies, ruthless men and, of course, Dames.

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Dames, shady businessmen and psycho henchmen are a must in Noir films. As are decorative lampshades, as pictured in the background.

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As he starts to uncover the events leading up to the murder, he becomes gradually more desperate as his expiration date is fast approaching. For an accountant he’s a pretty good investigator and he soon starts to find connections between his own untimely death and the apparent suicide of another man.

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As in all great films, sciency looking men with beakers of strange fluid also make an appearance.

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D.O.A. is another suspenseful Noir thriller told in flashbacks, complete with leggy blondes (our hero’s favourites), psychopathic henchmen and shootouts. And a nice girl, Paula (Britton), waiting at home not being told a thing about her boyfriend’s impending doom. Men…

Our favourite scene was a musical one – Bigelow goes to “The Fisherman”, a jive bar with amazing live music and “jive heads” being enlightened by the musical frenzy.

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We too felt the frenzy. Amazing guys!

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It’s interesting to watch a man when he has (almost) nothing left to lose. Bigelow, an accountant in “real life” seems to become more alive in his last 48 hour of life than he has been up until this point, and he also gets his priorities straight regarding his girl.

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No. The other one.

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Very tense, very thrilling, and very atmospheric, D.O.A. is definitely worth the watch. Excellent concept and an abundance of dames only add to the experience, and we recommend it to anyone interested in Film Noir. And/or decorative lampshades.

What we learned: Not everyone has the privilege of reporting or investigating their own murder. Also, ’50s dresses are the best dresses.

Next time: Gun Crazy (1950)

#95 White Heat

Watched: April 02 2017

Director: Raoul Walsh

Starring: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 54min

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After ten years, and 48 entries, James Cagney is back, and we’re thrilled. Cody Jarrett (Cagney) leads a gang of hoodlums with the help of his Ma (Wycherly) with whom he has a relationship worthy of a Freudian study. After several deaths during a train robbery perpetrated by him and his gang, Cody decides to take the rap for another, less violent crime committed at the same time to avoid a life and/or death sentence.

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He seems sadder about leaving his Ma for two years than about leaving his hot wife. See “Freud” above.

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Meanwhile, the man in charge of investigating the train robbery decides to put one of his men, Hank (O’Brien), undercover in Cody’s prison cell to get to the bottom of the case since he knows it was Cody’s doing. Hank’s task is to gain Cody’s trust and get a confession. Or, as it turns out, join him in a prison break and become his right hand man after unfortunate events and treacherous gang members throw Cody’s world off balance.

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“It’s guy love between two guuuuys”

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White Heat is an action-packed noir-thriller-prison break-heist-crime-gangster-film with all the elements we still see in the genre(s). The Cagney Charisma makes you sort of root for him a bit no matter how amoral and unscrupulous his character may be, although in this case it could be partly because the people with which he surrounds himself are pretty much as bad as he is.

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Examples include, but are not limited to, his beautiful but duplicitous wife Verna (Mayo)

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Cagney’s undeniable charm aside, we found ourselves rooting more and more for Hank as the story progressed, and we were really impressed with the often sophisticated investigative and forensic tools employed by the police in this film – they felt very modern to us. We also kind of loved Ma Jarrett although, like her son, she’s a bit of a manipulative sociopath.

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Cody is deliciously insane though, so Ma may have been a stabilizing influence in his life

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It’s a dramatic film with a dramatic score. The storyline is one which would probably have been stretched into an entire season of a TV show nowadays, so with a run time of under two hours, it never gets dull. Very good indeed, and we loved being back in the company of James Cagney.

What we learned: We might all profit from a closer study of classic literature.

Next time: All About Eve (1950)

#78 The Killers

Watched: January 22 2017

Director: Robert Siodmak

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 37min

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Two shady characters enter a diner, accompanied by a dramatic opening score. After intimidating the owner, the cook, and the lone guest, they set up for a hit on regular customer Swede (Lancaster). Who fails to show. Rude.

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They also start a time honoured tradition of people in films who order food in diners and proceed not to eat it. Seems very wasteful.

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When it becomes clear that their target won’t show up, the hitmen leave to track him down, and the diner guest, Nick, runs to warn the Swede, hopping fences on the way like an old-timey Simon Pegg. However, when he reaches the soon-to-be victim, the Swede refuses to do anything, stating he deserves his fate because he “once did something wrong”. Nick leaves and soon the hitmen finish their business. True to his word, the Swede does not defend himself. But why not? It is up to insurance investigator Jim Reardon (O’Brien) to figure everything out.

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Guess what? A Dame is involved!

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Reardon starts interviewing old friends and accomplices of Swede and the story of his life is told through flashbacks (naturally, as Lancaster would have ridiculously high billing if he had been killed in the first five minutes, never to be seen again). His first stop is the beneficiary of the Swede’s life insurance policy, an old lady running a hotel in which he once stayed. While she has no idea why he would leave her money, she does remember witnessing some erratic and self-destructive behaviour during his time in the hotel, as well as ramblings about a woman who is gone.

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It becomes clear that the man had some anger issues

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What Reardon finds is an ex-boxer who, when out on a date with another girl, falls in love with a Dame called Kitty Collins (Gardner). Kitty is involved in some shady business, and Swede takes the fall for one transgression, landing him in jail for three years. When released, he gets into even shadier stuff, leading him on a path of crime and destruction, much to the chagrin of his childhood friend who became a police officer.

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The police equivalent of a clown car. We love it!

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The Killers has more investigating and less action than some of the noir films we’ve watched, but it is intriguing and suspenseful. Ava Gardner is great as the double-crossing Dame, and the fact that this was Lancaster’s first film role is very impressive. As is common in film-noir, there’s great use of light and shadow, and the mood throughout the film is bleak and menacing. It’s a great watch for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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We’re going to leave you with this awesome image.

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What we learned: Don’t hit on other girls while you’re on a date. It’s just not classy. Also, there’s no honour among thieves. And Kitty’s got claws!

Next time: Black Narcissus (1947)