#291 Point Blank

Watched: January 23 2021

Director: John Boorman

Starring: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn, Carroll O’Connor, John Vernon, Sharon Acker

Year: 1967

Runtime: 1h 32min

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Walker (Marvin) is double-crossed (by his wife and best friend, no less!), shot and left for dead during a heist at the abandoned Alcatraz prison. He somehow survives and escapes, and is now determined to get his $93 000 back from “the Organization.”

“I AM Judge Judy and executioner!”

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He kills his way through a bunch of crooks and crime bosses, outsmarting them at every turn, all the while repeating his mantra of “I want my money.” Which, spoiler alert, he never gets. But he manages to fuck enough shit up that the people who stole from him won’t be able to enjoy it either. Which is a sort of a win itself, we guess. Although not a very satisfactory one.

About as satisfactory as emtying your chamber in the unoccupied bed of your treacherous ex-wife. We assume. We’ve never experienced the former as all our revenge plots have gone off without a hitch.

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As is tradition, in between kicking ass and taking names, he manages to entangle himself with a Dame, in this case his wife’s sister Chris (Dickinson). Keep it in the family. Smart man.

“I cannot believe my own brother-in-law is all the milkshake brought to the yard. Step up your game, milkshake!”

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We loved the sort-of-non-linear storytelling, Lee Marvin’s strong silent man routine, Angie Dickinson’s… Angie Dickinsonness, Lynne’s monologue when confronted by her “late” husband, and of course we’re suckers for a good revenge story.

“If you think about it, I’m the real victim here. I mean, I had to watch you die. Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to backstab you like that?”

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Our pet theory: Walker is a terminator. His escape from certain death, glitches in memory/patchy, non-linear thinking, and single minded determination to achieve his agenda are all testimony to that. Or, he is possibly just a very goal-oriented man. Either way Point Blank makes for a very entertaining watch, with its noir and French crime film influences and bad ass protagonist.

“I’ll be back. To watch the T-Birds beat the Scorpions in a drag race…”

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What we learned: If you’re going to double-cross and kill someone, make sure they’re actually dead. Also, just pay the man his money!

Next time: Poor Cow (1967)

#280 Tokyo Drifter

Watched: October 11 2020

Director: Seijun Suzuki

Starring: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Ryûji Kita, Eiji Gô, Hideaki Nitani, Tamio Kawaji

Year: 1966

Runtime: 1h 29min

Small disclaimer: we were unable to get our grabby hands on the recently added #279 The War Game in time for the blog, so we’re skipping that for now. We might return to it later if we can find it. But for now, we have moved on to #280: Tokyo Drifter!

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Hey kids! Wanna watch something incredibly stylish and cool? But at the same time you feel the need to watch something which will up your social capital and teach you something about a different culture? Or perhaps you’re just really tired of the world and want to look at some pretty colours? Well, have we got the film for you!

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“Which colour did you want in this shot again?” “ALL OF THEM!”

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Tokyo Drifter is as stylish as they come (checks the cool-box), is Japanese (checks the culture-box) and is also filled to the brim with pretty colours (checks the why-can’t-the-world-just-leave-me-alone-box)!

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Actiony AND artsy. It’s like a cheese-covered broccoli-movie!

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Tetsu (Watari) and his boss are reformed yakuza who are trying to go straight. However, their former rivals have other plans, and soon they are drawn back into the world of crime. To avoid brutal death, Tetsu must go a-roaming around Japan. But sooner or later return to Tokyo becomes unavoidable…

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“These shoes were made for walkin’, but not in this fucking snow! One of these days these shoes are gonna walk back to Tokyo.”

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Did we mention how cool this film is? ‘Cause it is so cool! The clothes, the colours, the sets, the music, the gangsters – you’ll be hard pressed to find something more stylish. It is as ’60s as they come in all the right ways. Also, there are both guns and swords at play here, which is never wrong.

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“All right, so everyone is clear on the rules? We get up and dance around, and whoever is still standing when the music stops has to die.”

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So OK, Tetsu annoyed us a little bit in the end, walking away from his girlfriend to live as a “Tokyo Drifter,” which struck us as a bit of a self-serving “sacrifice.” Other than that, there was nothing here we didn’t love. And now we want to visit Japan in the 1960s… Wearing bullet proof vests, obviously.

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Bullet proof vests can only get you so far though…

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What we learned: It is hard leaving a life of crime behind.

Next time: What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)

#245 The Pawnbroker

Watched: November 28 2019

Director: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Rod Steiger, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brock Peters, Jaime Sánchez, Thelma Oliver

Year: 1964

Runtime: 1h 56min

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Ready for some holiday cheer? You’ve come to the wrong place. After watching this, we could certainly need some cheering.

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“Falalalala-lala fuck you”

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Sol Nazerman (Steiger) is a holocaust survivor (with a slightly unfortunate name) living in New York. There, he runs a pawnshop while dabbling in whitewashing money for local gangster Rodriguez (Brock). Other than the business, he’s just going through the motions after losing his family, his friends and his will to live in Auschwich.

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No, we’re not able to identify various concentration camps on sight, but we are aware of the not-so-fun-fact that Auschwich was the only camp to use prison number tattoos. And we wish we didn’t have to know this sort of thing.

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Sol’s only employee Jesus (Sánchez) looks up to his boss, but he is also ambitious and has some less-than-savoury contacts. So he’s a bad choice waiting to happen. Meanwhile, Sol has repressed his memories and emotions, and that always ends well. Basically, you’re sitting on tenterhooks for 116 minutes, ready for tragedy.

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Look, we realise that you have nothing left to give to your fellow man, but please be nice to poor old Mr Smith. We love him.

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Ok, while this didn’t exactly get us into the Christmas spirit, The Pawnbroker is a really good movie. Sol, while anti-social and detached, is an intriguing character and we can see why everyone who came into contact with him was drawn to him. Probably mainly due to Steiger’s excellent performance – he’s marvellous.

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“I know you want nothing to do with me or any other human being, but you’re hypnotic and magnetic and I’m dying to be your friend”

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We loved the jazzy soundtrack, the menace of the lawnmower pawners (whose names escapes us), the quick-cut flashbacks with scenes from the camp, Mr Smith, and the contrast of the two sex scenes. It’s heartbreaking and horrible, but oh so good. Watch it, and then take a page out of the book of Penelope Garcia and go stare at pictures of puppies for a good half hour. You’ll need it.

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Alternatively, enjoy this photo of our late, great doggo watching “The Last of Sheila” and trying to figure out who dunnit.

What we learned: Everyone has a breaking point. And pushing people away has consequences…

Next time: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

#236 Band of Outsiders/Bande à part

Watched: June 26 2019

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Starring: Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur, Louisa Colpeyn

Year: 1964

Runtime: 1h 35min

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Odile (Karina) attends an English class where she meets would-be “American gangsters” Franz and Arthur (Frey and Brasseur, respectively). For some reason, she is charmed by these juvenile and annoying guys, and after being negged into submission she finds herself a key player in their “master plan” to rob her aunt’s employer.

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“And we’ll be like ‘Bang!’ and he’ll be like ‘Help!’ and we’ll be like ‘Give us all your money!’ and he’ll be like ‘Take it all!'” “Yeah, totally! We’re so cool.”

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Don’t get us wrong, there were things we liked about this movie. It’s very stylish, and there are fun and interesting bits such as the minute of (complete) silence. We really enjoyed the dance scene in the café (which you can watch here) and the record breaking tour of the Louvre as well.

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Heeeeey Macarena!

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We just could not deal with the characters. Odile is very simple, bland and easily manipulated, and Arthur is a negging dick, so they’re clearly meant to be. Franz is just boring, and both him and Arthur are playing at being American gangsters despite being far too old for that sort of behaviour (they both look about 40 but act like 15-year-olds). We’re at a loss to see how Odile would feel a need to impress these two and we fail to see her motivation.

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The only semi-charming thing they do with her is the Louvre run. Girl, you can do better!

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We just found them all really annoying and boring. Then again, this might be our own fault as we are probably expecting too much traditional character development from a French new wave classic.

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“OK guys, explain it to a simple Danish girl: what is the French fascination with love triangles?”

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We did love Mme Victoria (Colpeyn), the dog, the over-the-top death scene (won’t spoil it by saying whose), and the voice over – particularly at the end. It was just that the main characters irked us. A lot. And we found it difficult to see past that. Sorry, Godard (and Edgar)…

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No film with a random dance scene is a total waste though, so we’re glad we watched it.

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What we learned: Come on, Godard. Odile certainly was not thinking about her boobs all the time. Despite popular opinion, women spend very little time actually thinking about them. They’re just kind of there…

Next time: Blood and Black Lace (1964)

#232 The Small World of Sammy Lee

Watched: May 25 2019

Director: Ken Hughes

Starring: Anthony Newley, Julia Foster, Robert Stephens, Wilfrid Brambell, Warren Mitchell

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 47min

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No, we are not dead. We just had to take a small hiatus due to exams and related stress enducing activities which take a lot of time away from writing. But things are calming down (only two weeks until the summer break for some of us!) and we’re ready to get back into it. And we do so with classic British crime film The Small World of Sammy Lee.

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A.k.a. The Loneliness of the Gambling Debt Runner

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Patsy (Foster) arrives at a Soho strip club looking for Sammy Lee (Newley), the compère at the club who she had a fling with, and a job. Unfortunately for her, he’s off gambling and getting further into debt with a local kingpin, so she’s left with his sleazy boss instead.

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Despite Sammy’s absence, Patsy gets an “interview” and is promptly hired.

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Returning to work, Sammy is not overly pleased to learn that Patsy has found a job there, but at least she’s hired as a waitress rather than a stripper. For the time being. Additionally, he receives a call informing him that his debt of £300 is to be collected immediately. Although he does manage to talk the debt collectors into giving him 5 hours to come up with the money.

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“Um, yeah, I totally have that amount of money lying around and will have absolutely no trouble getting my hands on them within the next five hours. Just you wait!”

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Sammy has to pull all his strings, exhaust all his contacts and juggle all his ideas to make the money in the allotted time in order to survive the night. As the night goes on, the deals get shadier and shadier, and he will pull all those who love him down with him.

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Including young, naïve Patsy

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Sammy Lee is charming and funny, but a selfish bastard. His contact with his brother is limited to asking for money, and he has lots of acquaintances and very few friends. He pleads with the men in his life for money, but dismisses all the women who want to help him, probably out of some false sense of chivalry. Poor Patsy deserves better.

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As does Sammy’s ever faithful and loyal friend/sidekick Harry

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The Small World of Sammy Lee is tense and engaging, and we enjoyed it a lot. We also secretly liked the gratuitous strip tease scenes with the elaborate scenarios, despite our lack of understanding of their sexual appeal (might be a gender thing). We loved the properly choreographed numbers, the clear themes, and the contrast between the show and everything happening backstage.

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Note to all: no man is worth participating in an Arabian Nights themed strip tease. If you’re gonna do that, do it for yourself.

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And while we weren’t necessarily fans of Sammy, we really enjoyed Newley’s performance and the character’s ingenuity in trying to raise the money. We watched this as a double feature with Bitter Harvest, and to us, this reads a bit like an alternate reality version of that (which we’ll come to in a few days) with Patsy as a less driven and less autonomous Jennie. But we’ll explore this further in the next blog post.

What we learned: What a compère is. And also, don’t gamble. Although we already knew that.

Next time: Bonus: Bitter Harvest (1963)

#182 Some Like it Hot

Watched: May 5 2018

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, George Raft, Pat O’Brien, Joe E. Brown

Year: 1959

Runtime: 2h 1min

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Joe and Jerry (Curtis and Lemmon, respectively), two musicians employed at a speakeasy in Chicago, witness a mob hit and must go on the run to avoid becoming the next targets. They look for out-of-town work, but the only one hiring is an all-girl band going on tour. What happens next should surprise absolutely no one who has ever seen a silly comedy.

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As with “all” best friends, there’s the pretty one and then there’s the funny one

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The pair take their new identities Josephine and Daphne (she never liked the name Geraldine) and join the band, where they meet charming ukulele player Sugar Kane (Monroe). On the way to Miami, both fall for Sugar, but are unable to act upon it as they are supposed to pass for women.

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To be fair, you didn’t have to be a man to be attracted to Marilyn Monroe in her prime

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Once in Miami, Joe assumes a third (male) persona, that of heir “Shell Oil Junior,” in order to woo Sugar. Meanwhile, Jerry is pursued by creepy (but ultimately quite sweet) millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Brown), to whom “Daphne” later becomes engaged. Also, to add to the complications, the Chicago mobsters the musicians are hiding from have decided to do their yearly meeting at the same Miami hotel the band is staying at. Hilarities ensue.

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Hilarities include, but are not limited to, a rather scandalous dress and an even more scandalous seduction technique

 

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Despite the fairly simple set-up, this movie truly is hilarious. Given their actions, all the characters should be repellent, but thanks to utterly wonderful actors they come across as strangely likable, and you find yourself rooting for them all.

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Yes, even these two duplicitous “ladies”

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Amid all the sexism (it’s from the ’50s and set in the ’20s) and deceit, there is a sweetness and tolerance in this film which might be more relevant than ever. We loved Sugar’s outfits, Daphne’s tango date, Osgood (post initial assault), and the dialogue. Also, the ending is perfect, without any of the hurt feelings and apologies we find in all contemporary romantic comedies. Everyone just accepts what has happened and how others have tricked them and they move on with their lives and their loves. Perfect!

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And by everyone we mean everyone!

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What we learned: Nobody’s perfect.

Next time: The 400 Blows (1959)

#178 North by Northwest

Watched: April 8 2018

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Martin Landau

Year: 1959

Runtime: 2h 16min

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Roger O. Thornhill (Grant) is a busy adman with a slightly exasperated secretary and a fabulous mother (Landis). During lunch, he is mistaken for a Mr Kaplan by a couple of thugs and whisked away on an adventure.

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“We’re off to see the Wizard! The wonderful Wizard of Oz!”

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Despite Thornhill’s insistence that they have the wrong guy, baddie Phillip Vandamm (Mason) is convinced his captive is lying. His suspicions are confirmed several times as Thornhill starts investigating and finds himself in the mysterious Kaplan’s hotel room, accepting his laundry and answering his phone. Idiot.

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“What sort of flying monkey is this???”

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Things go from bad to worse when Thornhill becomes a prime suspect for murder and must go on the lam. He ends up sneaking on to the “Twentieth Century” where he meets the mysterious and gorgeous Eve Kendall (Saint). She helps him elude capture, but now our hero is hunted by both criminals and law enforcement. What a pickle!

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Luckily, Thornhill is a master of disguise!

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North by Northwest is definitely among the funnier Hitchcock movies. The whole thing plays like a farce, and Cary Grant’s amazing face, sass and sarcasm keep the audience laughing throughout. We also loved his darling mother.

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“I’m a delight!”

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As with several Hitchcock films (and others), the opening credits by Saul Bass are fantastic, and the movie is suspenseful and exciting from beginning to end. Love this!

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So cool!

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What we learned: If you’re the victim of mistaken identity, try not to pretend to be that person… Also, high heels and rock climbing is a bad match. There goes our weekend plans.

Next time: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

#133 The Big Combo

Watched: September 16 2017

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Starring: Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Brian Donlevy, Jean Wallace, Helen Walker

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 27min

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Leonard Diamond (Wilde) is a police lieutenant with a vendetta against crime lord Mr Brown (Conte). Despite warnings from his superiors and a distinct lack of evidence, he is hell-bent on bringing the gangster down and to save Mr Brown’s girl Susan Lowell (Wallace), with whom he is a bit obsessed.

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And who can blame him, with her face always being perfectly lit, even in shadows

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When Lowell tries to kill herself, Diamond finally has an opportunity to talk to her in her hospital bed. Not entirely conscious, she keeps muttering about someone named “Alicia,” but when she regains consciousness, she cannot say who Alicia is (or was).

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To the investigation-mobile!

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Mr Brown does not take kindly to Diamond’s interest in him, or his experiments with a lie-detector, so he kidnaps his nemesis, tortures him, and then pours him full of alcohol.

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Pictured: fun new ways of using a hearing aid!

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However, inventive torture devices do nothing to dissuade the investigator, who only increases his efforts to put the criminal behind bars. Following a hunch, Diamond goes out to prove that Brown is a killer, but what he finds is not quite what he expected.

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He does find time to snuggle with dancer Rita – an unlucky Dame with perfect make-up and low standards

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The Big Combo is dark and atmospheric, with great lighting and music. The characters are taken to the extreme; Diamond is exceedingly righteous and stubborn, while Brown is a sadistic psychopath with few redeeming features, apart from maybe his tongue, judging from the look on Susan’s face in one infamous scene.

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Her heart may regret getting involved with a gangster, but her body thinks otherwise…

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We loved the lighting, the smoke and the angles, the jazzy music and the use of sound around a pivotal moment in McClure’s life (which we will not spoil). The Big Combo is also surprisingly progressive sexually, with the aforementioned scene with Susan and Brown, as well as the heavily implied relationship between henchmen Fante and Mingo both being unusually explicit for the time.

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It’s (more than) guy love between two guuuuys

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Definitely worth watching, especially if you’re into noir films with lots of sexual undertones.

What we learned: Even gangster henchmen can find love in each other.

Next time: The Court Jester (1955)

#129 It’s Always Fair Weather

Watched: August 21 2017

Director: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

Starring: Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Dan Dailey, Michael Kidd, Dolores Gray

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Three friends, Ted Riley (Kelly), Doug Hallerton (Dailey), and Angie Valentine (Kidd), return to New York from World War II. They get drunk, engage in a stomp-style dance routine and promise each other (and bartender Tim) to meet up again in ten years.

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“We’ll totally be this happy and optimistic for the rest of our lives, and we’ll never grow apart, and we’ll live up to all our potential, and never fail, and everything will be awesome forever!”

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The ten years pass, and would-be lawyer Ted is a gambler, aspiring artist Doug is an ad-man, and ambitious chef Angie is the owner of a hamburger stand. They meet up, but are disappointed in each other, their once great friendship, and themselves.

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“Well, weren’t we overly optimistic annoying little gits in that last scene..?”

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As they are stewing in their resentment in a fancy restaurant, Jackie Leighton (Charisse), who is also in advertising, is introduced to them by an associate of Doug.

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They’re shielding their eyes because her dressed ripped in the last scene. They’re gentlemen. Except for dude on the left.

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She fends off Ted’s advances at first, but then comes up with the idea to show the three men’s reunion on a TV show hosted by (the glorious) Madeline (Gray). Also, there are gangsters.

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Nothing like a bit of violence to rekindle an old friendship

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We’re suckers for Gene Kelly musicals, and so naturally we enjoyed this one. We loved the time lapse showing how their careers developed over the years; the thoughts they have about each other to the tune of The Blue Danube; the boxers in Stillman’s Gym (very Bugsy Malone!); the roller blade tap routine; the dresses and Madeline. Funny yet slightly moody and depressing at times – great stuff!

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It might be the gloomiest Kelly-musical, but it’s not all dark and serious

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What we learned: K-L-E-N-Z-R-I-T-E spells Klenzrite – the only washing soap for us. Also, how to scare men off with facts. As if we needed more help in that department…

Next time: Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

#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)