Category Archives: Classic Movie Night

Classic Movie Night Recommendation

Ben-Hur (1959)

Tuesday, February 17th

8:00PM (ET)

Ben-Hur_1

Ben-Hur_2Set around the birth and life of Christ, Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) through a series of brief encounters is an observer of Christ’s life and death. However, this is not about the life of Christ, rather an epic centered on a man seeking revenge. Judah Ben-Hur’s life has been one of privilege, as a Jewish trader he has connections to Romans who occupy Judea. One such being his childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) who has returned to Judea as commander of the Roman garrison. Messala believes in the power of Rome and attempts his friendship with Ben-Hur to gain information about the Jewish inhabitants. Ben-Hur refuses to be disloyal to his people and his faith. Thus, setting up these two old friends to become bitter rivals both fighting for their own beliefs and loyalties.

Ben-Hur_3During the parade for the new governor of Judea, Valerius Gratus (Mino Doro), a loose tile falls frightening the governors horse and killing him. In protecting his sister, Ben-Hur is accused of the crime and it is his old friend Messala who sends Ben-Hur to a miserable existence as a galley-slave, a fate which ensures his certain death. But this is not the end of Ben-Hur who in another series of events, saves the Roman consol Quintus Artius (Jack Hawkins). Artius adopts Ben-Hur as his son, giving him all the rights and privileges or a Roman citizen. Ben-Hur now travels back to Judea to confront the man who ruined his life and his family, all culminating into one of the largest action sequences on film, a great chariot race.

Ben-Hur_4Ben-Hur (1959) would not only be known for the great chariot race sequence, but also for the fact that it saved MGM from bankruptcy. MGM needed a way to pull movie goers away from their television sets at home. MGM also had reserves of funds in the way of movie profits in foreign countries that could only be spent in the respective countries. MGM decided to use some of these profits to film a grand epic set in the time of ancient Rome, Quo Vadis (1951). It was then decided that they would reuse the sets and costumes from Quo Vadis for another Roman epic, a remake of MGM’s 1925 epic film, Ben-Hur. Even prior to 1925, Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ was a popular book written by Lew Wallace and published in 1880. Until this point, Wallace had been a lawyer, a general in the United States Army, and a judge at the trial of the assassins of Abraham Lincoln. He had dreamed of becoming a writer, and wrote Ben-Hur while serving as governor of New Mexico. The book was later turned into a stage play which ran from 1899-1921 consisting of a water battle and chariot race.

Ben-Hur_5Charlton Heston was the not the first choice for the role of Judah Ben-Hur, the role was originally offered to an array of Hollywood lead actors including: Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson, Geoffrey Horne, Leslie Nielsen, and Kirk Douglass. However, Heston at this point was no stranger to epic films starring in Cecil B. DeMille’s final two films, The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) and The Ten Commandments (1956). The later probably providing him sufficient background and insight that would benefit him in his Academy Award winning role of Ben-Hur.

Ben-Hur_6Ben-Hur was the highest grossing film of 1959 and the second highest grossing film of all-time behind Gone with the Wind (1939). It is the perfect picture to watch in honor of Oscar season. The film though nominated for 12 awards, would win 11 awards at the 32nd Academy Awards in 1960 a record that would be matched later by Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003):

  • Best Picture- Sam Zimbalist
  • Best Director- William Wyler
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role- Charlton Heston
  • Best Actor in a supporting Role- Hugh Griffith
  • Best Art Direction- Set Direction, Color- Edward C. Carfagno & William A Horning, Hugh Hunt
  • Best Cinematography, Color- Robert L. Surtees
  • Best Special Effects- Arnold Gillespie, Robert Macdonald & Milo Lory
  • Best Film Editing- John D. Dunning & Robert E. Winters
  • Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture- Miklós Rózsa
  • Best Sound Recording- Franklin Milton

Classic Movie Night Recommendation:

Metropolis (1927)

Thursday, July 26th

8:00PM (ET)

Metropolis_2Within the city of Metropolis lives two very different worlds. The world above is flooded with light from the sun, where learning and technology flourish and its youth can frolic and play. Below is the dungeon like world filled with people of despair. A life of misery and danger await these people daily as they robotically toil to keep the world above in its state of comfort. The two worlds come together when Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the son of the city’s wealthy master, ventures below in search of the beautiful Maria (Brigitte Helm). Maria preaches to the people of the underworld about a day when the two worlds will be brought together. Freder’s father Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel) has enlisted the help of the mad scientist Rotwang to squash the rebelling workers. However, Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) has plans of his own to create life like robots to replace the workers, his prototype is a robot that looks like Freder’s deceased mother (who coincidentally resembles Maria).

Metropolis_3Director Fritz Lang hoped to make a film that would make a statement for German film making around the world, and UFA (Universum Film AG) bought into the dream. The art deco dystopian world that Lang created is one that set the standard for Science Fiction films then as well as into the future. The film is also an excellent example of the German Expressionism. Though the film nearly bankrupted UFA, it was popular amongst audiences. But, received mixed reviews from critics, including one written by author H.G. Welles criticizing the film as foolish and cliché. The nearly 3 hour long film was reduced to 115 minutes for world wide release. It was again cut to 91 minutes to remove “inappropriate” communist subtext and religious imagery. These cuts deleted crucial scenes to the film that tied together the plot. This footage was thought to be lost, till 2008 a copy of the originally released film was found in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Once added it created the most complete copy of the film to date and it is unimaginable to think of the film without this additional footage.

Metropolis_4The film was a favorite of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, who praised its message of social justice. It is thought that the films connection to Nazi Germany is one reason why Lang would later distance himself from the film. However, from the first time I saw this film and still watching it today, it is one of the most visually spectacular films from the silent movie era. The vision and message which Lang creates is one that can still be found relatable to today.

 

 

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Images from: Metropolis Dir. Fritz Lang. UFA 1927. DVD.

Classic Movie Night Recommendation:

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Thursday, July 3rd

6:00PM (ET)

Dorian Gray_1

“If only the picture could change and I could be always what I am now.  For that I would give everything….I would give my soul for that.”

“If only the picture could change and I could be always what I am now. For that I would give everything….I would give my soul for that.”

The search for the fountain of youth is something that many searched, wished, and paid for. This is the cautionary tale about the handsome and impressionable Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield). Upon viewing the painting which would forever be a record of his youth, Dorian wishes for he himself to remain young and the painting to grow old. To Dorian’s disbelief this wish becomes reality, yet along with aging the painting displays the damage of his indiscretions (murder, drug use, and sex). For decades, Dorian is able to revel in his forever youth with no consequences for his bad behavior. He has discovered the secret to cheating death. However, Dorian finds shame in the painting which is the proof of his degenerate ways, and could prove to be his downfall.

Dorian Gray_3Primarily filmed in black and white, the infamous painting of Dorian is shown in Technicolor. The painting was completed and altered during filming by Ivan Albright who was known for his paintings of the macabre and grotesque. The painting becomes a silent character in the film, changing in scenes as an effect of Dorian’s actions. The painting now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.

With this film, Angela Lansbury would receive her second of three Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress. She would however, receive a Golden Globe for this film. The film would also receive an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

Dorian Gray_4

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Images from: The Picture of Dorian Gray Dir. Albert Lewin. MGM 1945. DVD.

Classic Movie Night Recommendation:

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)

Sunday, June 22nd

8:00PM (ET)

Godzilla King_1

Godzilla King_4

“You have a responsibility that no man has ever had to face. Your fear which may become reality, and you have Godzilla which is reality.” –Ogata (Akira Takarada) to Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata)

The world is puzzled when near Japan ships are sunk by a blinding light emerging them from the sea. A terror-stricken Japan turns to Odo Island at its inhabitants who are focused on traditions and superstition. They believe one ancient monster in particular is responsible for the recent the disasters, this monster being Godzilla. However, the attacks are not limited to the ocean, and the monster begins to attack on land. Researchers are brought in to investigate, finding evidence of once extinct species and traces of radioactivity. They are able to witness for themselves Godzilla looming, frightening all with his ferocious roar before receding back into the ocean. Godzilla is thought to be a once extinct creature that has been resurrected due to repeated experiments using hydrogen bombs. Now humanity must seek a way to destroy Godzilla before he destroys civilization.

 

Godzilla King_3Gojira was released in Japan in 1954 to mixed reviews, since then, the film gained more respect in Japan and has been listed amongst the top Japanese movies ever made. The film however, had only a limited release in the United States, before being edited for American audiences and re-released in 1956. This 1956 version of Godzilla introduced many audiences outside of Japan to Godzilla, and made him into the “King of the Monsters.” In the editing, this film used much of the footage from the original 1954 Japanese production. American producers inserted scenes using actor Raymond Burr and in some scenes the use of doubles to stand in for the Japanese actors in the original film. Burr’s character Steve Martin provides the narration for much of the film filling in information for the American audiences. Careful attention was paid to match the visual tone of the original film while making the film suitable for American release.

Godzilla King_2Japan of 1954 were not immune to the destruction and lingering effects of radiation and nuclear weapons. The 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and nuclear testing by the United States military on Bikini Atoll, made people wonder about the fallout from nuclear science. This early Godzilla is the physical representation of the destruction from nuclear energy.

I particularly chose this film this week due to the resurrection of Godzilla in 2014. This version of the film sees a re-imagination of the Godzilla character. He is no longer that destructive Godzilla King_5monster set on terror and devastation; he is now the balance of nature. There is still the undertone of nuclear science and its effects on the planet; however, it removes sole blame from nuclear science and testing for the rise of Godzilla and the monsters that appear. There are several other commonalities between the original 1954 film and the 2014 including the return to a closer resemblance of the original iconic look of the monster himself.

 

 

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Images from: Godzilla, King of the Monsters! Dir. Ishirō Honda & Terry O. Morse. Toho Studios & Jewell Enterprises Inc, 1956. DVD.

 

 

Classic Movie Night Recommendation:

Send Me No Flowers (1964)

 

Send Me No Flowers_2

Send Me No Flowers_3In this their final onscreen pairing, Doris Day and Rock Hudson play a married couple who over a matter of days are involved in events caused by a series of misunderstandings. Hudson as George Kimball is a hypochondriac who is convinced he’s dying when he overhears his doctor discussing the diagnosis of a terminally ill patient. Assuming the test results are his, George sets about preparing for his impending death. He confides the devastating news to his good friend and neighbor Arnold Nash (Tony Randall) who sets out on the drinking binge which lasts the course of the film. George purchases a cemetery plot from an overzealous funeral home operator; Mr. Adkins (Paul Lynde). In his thoughtfulness he even purchases a plot for his wife’s future second husband. George now sets out in search of his replacement, since this is 1960 and there is no way that Judy (Doris Day) would be able to find someone on her own that would be able to care for her as George as always done. However, Judy misconstrues George’s secrets as his attempt to cover up an affair.

Send Me No Flowers_1Send Me No Flowers also marks the pairs final teaming with Tony Randall. The three shared the screen in both Pillow Talk (1959) and Lover Come Back (1961). Compared to the previous films, Send Me No Flowers falls shorts. However, it is still an enjoyable to watch.

 

 

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Images from: Send Me No Flowers Dir. Norman Jewison. Universal Studios, 1964. DVD.

 

Classic Movie Night Recommendation:

Magnificent Obsession (1954)

Thursday, June 12th

8:00PM (ET)

Magnificent Obsession_1

Magnificent Obsession_2An over-the-top 1950’s Hollywood melodrama, describes Douglas Sirk’s 1954 remake of the film Magnificent Obsession which originally stared Irene Dunn and Robert Taylor. In this version, playboy Robert Merrick (Rock Hudson) lives a reckless and fast paced life; he works hard and plays harder. When involved in a life threatening speedboat accident, Merrick’s life is saved. However, in exchange for Merrick’s life, the saintly Dr. Wayne Phillip’s dies lacking the medical equipment that is being used to save Merrick. From this point on the story revolves much around Merrick and his encounters with Dr. Phillip’s widow Helen (Jane Wyman), but the story also involves the late Dr. Phillip’s and his philosophy in helping others. Merrick will receive the divine message, but it will make little sense to him till Helen is made blind because of his own clumsiness. Despite all of this, Helen will fall in love with Bob, but not without more tragic and emotional bumps in the road. After all this is a Douglas Sirk melodrama.

Magnificent Obsession_3

During his association with Universal-International which lasted from 1952- 1959, Sirk made a name for himself with lush, colorful melodramas which featured the top actresses of the time. Sirk believed himself an artist and that the film screen was his medium, he used lighting, color and music to accentuate the over dramatic plots he presented to audiences. Under Universal-International Sirk was able to find the freedom to make his types of films. Despite being at the top of his career in 1959 with the release of Imitation of Life (another remake of an earlier classic), Sirk left Hollywood to settle in Switzerland never to make another movie again.

Magnificent Obsession_4Magnificent Obsession was Rock Hudson’s breakthrough role as a leading man in Hollywood, and solidified his career for the rest of the 1950’s and throughout the 1960’s. The popularity of his teaming with Jane Wyman would be repeated the following year in All that Heaven Allows (1955). Ironically, this next film would center on the May-December romance of the Hudson and Wyman characters. The eight year age difference, though noticeable on film, was not mentioned in the prior film. Magnificent Obsession focused more on the changes Hudson’s character must undergo to be “worthy” of taking his place in the world which inevitably meant he would become the replacement of Dr. Phillips in philosophy, career, and love.

Magnificent Obsession_5Beyond the story line of the typically Sirkonian melodrama is the central message of achieving success with one’s own destiny. In order to find fulfillment with one’s own self, one must be a servant to those that are in need. The character of Merrick has always been able to stay out of trouble though monetary exchange. However, he learns that with this philosophy it is not about what a person gets out of it, but doing kind things for others without recognition or repayment. Helping others should be about doing the right thing because you have the resources to do so and in return the universe will reward you.

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Images from: Magnificent Obsession Dir. Douglas Sirk. MGM, 1954. DVD.

 

Classic Movie Night Recommendation:

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Friday, April 18th

10:00PM (ET)

Postman_1

When Frank Chambers mused that maybe his future starts now, little did he know the events at Twin Oaks would seal his fate.

When Frank Chambers mused that maybe his future starts now, little did he know the events at Twin Oaks would seal his fate.

Drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield) ends up at a Twin Oaks roadside diner and gas station. Instantly he loses his breath upon seeing Twin Oaks mistress, Cora Smith (Lana Turner). The longer he stays, the more he is taken into the web of this femme fatale. Cora wants Frank and Twin Oaks, and the only way to have both is to get rid of her husband (Cecil Kellaway). They plan for an accident to befall Nick Smith, planning every detail of the crime. However, as fate would have it the murder doesn’t go off as planned, and the accident attacks the attention of the local district attorney. Their second attempt to get Nick out of their lives succeeds. However, Nick and Cora are torn apart under the strains of an investigation into their involvement with Nick’s death. But, this temporary breakup is far from the end for Frank and Cora.

Postman_3The influence of Postman written in 1934 by James M. Cain can be seen in a later Cain novel turned film, Double Indemnity. Both films feature a man entangled and brought down by a femme fatale plotting to permanently get rid of her husband. It was because of Paramount’s success with Double Indemnity (1944) that convinces MGM to take this leap into film noir. It was the glamour studios way of featuring their blond-bombshell Lana Turner while keeping within the lines of the censors, and Turner steams up the screen with her pairing with Garfield.

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Images from: The Postman Always Rings Twice Dir. Tay Garnett. MGM, 1946. DVD.

Classic Movie Night Recommendation

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

 

Withness for the Prosecution

Withness for the Prosecution_3Sir Wilfrid Roberts (Charles Laughton) a master barrister has just returned home from convalescing from a recent heart attack. Upon his first day at home he is presented with Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) who is accused of the murder of the wealthy widow, Mrs. Emily French (Norma Varden). Using his charm and personality he quickly wins the affections of Mrs. French who ends up making him beneficiary of her will. After the arrest of Vole, Sir Wilfrid meets the German born Christine Vole (Marlene Dietrich) whose visit cast doubt upon her husband’s story. It will because of this meeting that Sir Wilfrid will refuse to call the cold and self possessing Mrs. Vole to testify for her husband. However, the prosecution sees an advantage in questioning this important witness to her husband’s events. Now Sir Wilfrid must fight for his client despite the facts presented and the circumstantial evidence in the case. In doing so, he will be constantly followed by his annoyingly overly doting nurse, Miss Plimsoll (Laughton’s wife in real life, Elsa Lanchester).

Withness for the Prosecution_2

Real life husband and wife, Laughton and Lanchester, married since 1929 had frequently appeared together in film. This, their final pairing, both would receive Academy Award Nominations for the performances in this film. The relationship between Sir Wildrid and Miss Plimsoll provides much comic relief to this intense film.

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This would be Powers final screen role. He would die the following year filming a dueling scene in Spain. Powers typically known for being the swashbuckling hero, died with a sword in his hand.

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Images from: Witness for the Prosecution Dir. Billy Wilder. United Artists, 1957. DVD.

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