#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)

#210 West Side Story

Watched: December 16 2018

Director: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise

Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Simon Oakland

Year: 1961

Runtime: 2h 33min

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New York City, some time in the 1950s. The Jets, possibly the least intimidating gang in movie history, are out jazz dancing and generally being a minor nuisance. When they bump into the equally graceful Sharks, it culminates in an epic dance-off.

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Even their dedication to their ballet lessons couldn’t keep them off the streets

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After the two gangs’ confrontation, former Jet Tony (Beymer) is asked to accompany Jet leader Riff (Tamblyn) to a dance, in order to challenge their rivals to a rumble (which apparently was 1950s slang for a dance battle, possibly involving weapons). Tony has turned his life around and left his gang for a job, but has sworn allegiance to Riff “from womb to tomb” and thus agrees to come.

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The kids didn’t let the fact that the basketball was nowhere to be found stop them from trying to score.

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At the tense dance, Tony meets newly arrived Puerto Rican Maria (Wood), the sister of Sharks leader Bernardo (Chakiris), and the two instantly fall in love. But while this could have been a golden opportunity for the two gangs to put aside their differences and join forces, the romance is not accepted by either side and the lovers are forced to part.

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We can sort of understand the scepticism of their friends though. The couple has barely exchanged three words with each other before they start planning their wedding. Kids!

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Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is a fantastically colourful and energetic musical version of the classic play. We absolutely love the dancing, the transitions, the music, the colours, the humour, and the costumes. And Anita (Moreno), Bernardo’s feisty girlfriend.

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Sassy, independent, gorgeous, feisty and talented. Naturally, her character is raped. Women like that must be punished.

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It’s a tragic love story, but it also points out different forms of racism in the USA. In fact, the gangs might be bad news, but the real villain of the piece is racist Lieutenant Schrank. And discrimination in itself.

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Racism and discrimination may well be the villains, but dance is the hero!

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We love all the music in West Side Story (in fact, some of these songs make the perfect soundtrack when you clean the house), but our favourite songs are probably the one the gang sings about Officer Krupke, and I Feel Pretty. The latter because it’s the first time we see any real personality in Maria, who is often a fairly bland character. She does show some industry in the end though, which redeems her somewhat.

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Gone is the innocent, naïve girl in the white dress, to be replaced by a woman in red

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All in all, this is a fantastic movie in which everyone will find something to enjoy.

What we learned: Anything can be solved with a dance-off. And if these people had stuck to that bit of wisdom this whole affair would have ended very differently. Also, play it cool.

Next time: Yojimbo (1961)

#197 The Apartment

Watched: August 27 2018

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Jack Kruschen

Year: 1960

Runtime: 2h 05min

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C.C. “Bud” Baxter (Lemmon) works for an insurance company and has a crush on elevator girl Fran Kubelik (MacLaine). To ingratiate himself with management he lets several of his bosses borrow his apartment for illicit rendez-vous with their various mistresses.

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“We’ve worked out the new queuing system. Once we’ve covered ourselves, you will have one night a week in your own apartment.”

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The Big Boss Jeff D. Sheldrake (MacMurray) learns of this arrangement and swaps two theatre tickets for a night at Bud’s place. Bud invites Fran to the show, but she stands him up since it turns out she is the girl Sheldrake has brought to the shag shack.

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Can you believe she stands a guy up after he’s taken the time to learn all about her, including her address, her social security number and her insurance status? Rude!

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After Sheldrake doesn’t make good on his promise to divorce his wife for Fran, she tries to commit suicide in Bud’s apartment and he is left to care for her and pick up the pieces of his boss’ mess.

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“I swear I’m a good guy. You can do so much better than Sheldrake. I know all about you, and I’m right here!”

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The Apartment is funny and charming, and we really enjoyed it, but the men in this are generally questionable to say the least! Sheldrake is a real piece of work, as are the middle management bosses, and this is clear from the start. However, the character of Bud is only (partially) saved by being played by Jack Lemmon, who is very likable as an actor.

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It’s near impossible to truly dislike someone who uses a tennis racket as a pasta strainer

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Bud is well-meaning enough, but he exhibits some creepy stalker behaviour when trying to woo the “unseducable” Fran Kubelik. That being said, we really had fun watching this movie, and Fran is very likable and human even though she tries to kill herself over a guy…

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Stalkery behaviour aside, at least Bud is a bit of a step up from this guy.

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We will give The Apartment credit for being complicated – this is not a clear cut love story with perfect characters and a fairy tale ending. The characters are complex and flawed, and that’s one of the reasons it’s an enjoyable comedy and well worth seeing. Still, perhaps it’s time for Fran to be single for a while..?

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You do you, girl!

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What we learned: Don’t trust a taker. But be a bit weary of stalkers as well…

Next time: The League of Gentlemen (1960)

#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)