I’m going to skip watching It Happened One Night for this exercise because truth be known I have already seen it twice in the past few months. I originally rented it because I had always wanted to see the first film that took home Academy Awards for all five major categories — Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Director. It did not disappoint and a few months later I watched it again when I ran across it on cable.
Its films like this that remind me that just because a film is old does not mean it’s not contemporary. It Happened One Night came out in 1935 but the writing is witty and modern — it must have been something special in 1935! I love this film, especially the work by Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Gable won his only Oscar for his role as newspaper reporter Peter Warne, who stumbles upon a great story and ends up finding love. Colbert is the sharp-witted heiress who he finds running away from her father. The on-screen chemistry between the pair is magnificent and the dialogue is ahead of its time.
You could easily argue that It Happened One Night is the forefather of the modern-day romantic comedy. It has everything you like in a RomCom including the sexual tension, something that must have been unique in the 1930s. It’s a great film and I recommend it to anyone who likes romantic comedies (I admit it, I’m a sucker for a good one!)
Next Up: Shane
A Streetcar Named Desire is one of those films I’ve always heard about but never saw. And of course, the famous scene with Marlon Brando screaming for his wife Stella has become a meme and a staple of any Hollywood montage sequence. I also must admit I have never read any Tennessee Williams plays nor have I seen any other films based on Tennessee Williams writing, so I’m not expert on the guy or his genre. My guess is that the play was better than the film and the written work was better than the play. I say this because the screenplay is clearly the highlight of the film and as if you need any proof the acting ensemble all took home Oscars or Oscar nominations — good writing!
Let’s get this out of the way first — I really didn’t like the film. In fact, I fell asleep for a few minutes in the middle of the damn thing. But I did like the acting and the screenplay. Vivian Leigh was amazing as Blanche DuBois and it seemed as if the part was written for her. For anyone who thought her turn as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind was a clinic on overacting, she certainly redeemed herself 12 years later as DuBois. She won the Oscar for both, but without question her portrayal of DuBois was a tour de force. It’s never easy to play someone who is mentally ill without going over the top, but in this role she slowly starts to come apart from the beginning of the film until she completely loses it by the end. Brilliant work. Karl Malden was also very good as poor Mitch who falls for Blanche and watches as she comes undone. It’s funny how we think of an actor like Karl Malden for one particular role (for me Karl will always be Detective Mike Stone from The Streets of San Francisco) but he has quite a film career prior to his television success. Malden won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this film and was nominated again a few years later for On The Waterfront. Kim Hunter was also nominated for an Oscar, for her role as Stella. I had no idea who she was until I looked her up on IMDB and found out she made a name for herself as Zira in The Planet of the Apes series!
And then there was Marlon Brando. What can we say about Mr. Brando? The man was nominated eight times for an Academy Award and won twice (for On The Waterfront and The Godfather). He was nominated for his role in this film as the brutish Stanley Kowalski and frankly I could barely understand a fucking word he said. What is it with this guy? Why is a guy who mumbles like this considered such a great actor? I don’t get it. He’s the film equivalent of Bob Dylan (the greatest mumbler of all time). I get that he’s a method actor who gets into the head of his characters, but why the hell can’t he annunciate? Whatever.
Maybe I’m just not a Tennessee Williams fan. We’ll see as he gets another shot later in the AFI list.
Next: It Happened One Night
The second Alfred Hitchcock film so far on the AFI Top 100, Rear Window stars Jimmy Stewart as a professional photographer who is laid up with a broken leg with nothing to do but spy on his neighbors out his window. When he thinks his a neighbor has killed his wife he tries to put together the story along with his girlfriend, his nurse and a detective friend. The result is really less of a suspense film and more of a commentary on society.
In terms of suspense the film is a little slow and not nearly as action packed as other Hitchcock films like Psycho, North By Northwest or The Birds. But I enjoyed it for its statement about human nature. Stewart’s character Jeff watches over his neighborhood and judges each neighbor. There is “Miss Lonelyhearts” who dines with imaginary friends, and the songwriter who struggles with his art but throws parties with lots of people. There are the newlyweds and of course “Miss Torso” who dances around in her underwear and appears to have many men chasing after her. But of course Jeff becomes obsessed with the salesman, Mr. Thorwald, who slaves over his ill wife until one strange night she seems to have disappeared. Jeff watches Thorwald’s strange behavior and rushes to the judgement that he has killed his wife.
Frankly I’m not sure why Rear Window is considered a great film by so many, including the AFI. Aside from the interesting characters in the apartment complex it’s a pretty silly film, especially the end in which Thorwald goes a little crazy. The whole premise that Thorwald would kill his wife with the shades open and then continue to prance about his apartment packing up her belongings is far-fetched. So too is his reaction when Jeff lets him know that he is on to his scheme. Thorwald’s behavior is so unbelievable that it borders on ridiculous.
On the other hand, Jimmy Stewart does a nice job as Jeff. His character has the best lines (along with the sharp-witted nurse). On top of that, any film with the gorgeous Grace Kelly is worth watching. Still, Jeff doesn’t seem to want to marry Grace so he’s really not that bright after all.
Next Up: A Streetcar Named Desire
I’ll be perfectly honest, I wasn’t too hip on watching a three hour silent movie from 1916. I gave Intolerance 20 minutes or so and figured…well…I tried. But this is my journey through the AFI Top 100 and I get to make the rules. I got the gist.
Intolerance is D.W. Griffith’s response to criticism that his 1915 landmark film The Birth of a Nation was racist. I actually saw The Birth of a Nation in a college film class — it’s part of any decent history of film class — and it was definitely racist! Hell, it had the KKK in it. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t important. Still, Intolerance seems like an obvious answer to critics: let’s make a film that shows the downside of intolerance.
I’ll give the film this much — it was an epic undertaking. I can’t imagine it was easy to film with all those locations and extras. The costume budget alone must have been overwhelming. Still, life is too short to watch three hours of it.
Next: Rear Window
I’m going to be critical of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings being on the AFI Top 100 list, so if you’re a big fan forgive me. I’d like to begin by saying I enjoyed this film, both this time and the first time I watched it when it debuted in 2001. I read the Tolkien books as a kid and I love the story. I also think this film and the other two films in the trilogy are wonderful and ambitious adaptations of the stories. Peter Jackson does a tremendous job bringing Middle Earth to life and the CGI and cinematography are great. I think it’s a good film, but it definitely does not belong on the list of the Top 100 films ever made. Here’s why…
The Fellowship of the Rings is not a complete film. It’s only one-third of a film, and while that’s not Jackson’s fault it does, in my mind, eliminate it from contention for this list because it really can’t stand on its own. I know, you’re thinking The Godfather is also a trilogy and surely I won’t argue against both parts one and two being on this list — and you’d be right. But The Fellowship of the Rings does not stand on its own as a story — it ends with a cliffhanger and that means the story is not complete. Sorry if you think I’m being ticky tacky, but it’s just not a complete film.
The fact is you can’t have a real discussion about the film without discussing the full trilogy. The characters are not fully developed and several important characters aren’t even introduced until the second film. I guess I wouldn’t have argued if AFI put the three films together and called it one of the Top 100. But they didn’t do that. Hell, the Oscar committee screwed it up as well. Fellowship got a best picture nomination and it shouldn’t have. Two Towers got the same treatment. Then the Academy went ballistic and threw the whole kit and caboodle at Return of the King and gave it 11 Oscars including best picture. If Return of the King was so good, why didn’t AFI give it the recognition? Bottom line for me is that Fellowship doesn’t deserve to be on this list. That being said, I enjoyed it and it’s a great fantasy film (er, piece of a film).