Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

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A gang of three go-go dancers that are used to take whatever they want, may it be with sex or with violence, are after the big money. Do they get it through ransom, seduction or killing?

A sexploitation cult classic from independent filmmaker Russ Meyer (1922-2004), who could be considered as the counter model of Ed Wood: Despite very low budgets, Russ Meyer continued to deliver sexy, wild and fast paced softcore action flicks catering to the grindhouse audience. A great example for an auteur who successfully turned his personal obsessions into art – with disregard to authorities or studios. Owning the rights of almost all of his films, he retired as a rich man in the Seventies, continuing making millions through selling videos and DVDs until his dead. 

A part of his success derived from the choice of his actresses who all stand out through their impressive physicality. In “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” we can admire “Miss Japan Beautiful” Tura Satana, and the exotic dancers Haji and Lori Williams. Not much to say any further, enjoy this type of “exclusively American” picture!

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059170/?ref_=nv_sr_2

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ED WOOD (1994)

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Tim Burton pays homage to “world’s worst” fringe filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr., featuring some reenacted scenes of Wood’s most infamous films: GLEN OR GLENDA (1953), BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1955), NIGHT OF THE GHOULS (1959) and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959).

The film not only focuses on the artistic struggles of this director, but also sympathetically portrays his obsessions, his love live, and many of his unusual friends.

Martin Landau was awarded the Academy Award and the Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor for his role as the forgotten horror legend Bela Lugosi (“Dracula”, 1931). [The movie garnered its second Oscar for the Best Make-Up.] Wood is played by a very enthusiastic young Johnny Depp, and you can also enjoy Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, Sarah Jessica Parker, Vincent D’Onofrio and other great character actors in this film.

Despite being critically acclaimed, this film is the first of Tim Burton’s legendary financial failures with only making back a third of its budget in the USA [the other ones are: “Corpse Bride”, “Dark Shadows”, “Frankenweenie”, “Big Fish” and worst of all “Mars Attacks!” which again interestingly is a different form of homage to Ed Wood!]. It also marks Burton’s first R-rated film.

For this course, this film marks midterm, and from now we will delve into more “modern” and adventurous forms of film production. It will be a break from the classics we have been watching so far, but despite being made in the 90’s, the films setting is the 50’s, and Burton choose to shoot it in B/W, probably aiming to look more “authentic”. It also will introduce you to a different type of film production away from the glamour of Golden Hollywood (despite the studios on “Poverty Row” being at least geographically close).

Wood whose directorial efforts could be considered in the very best case as mixed pleasures, nowadays is admired by many for his strong independent spirit, being an “auteur” type of filmmaker, and having made with “Glen or Glenda” (1953) the world’s first “serious” film about transvestism and transsexualism. Many of his films are also “So Bad It’s Good” type of movies being very enjoyable for their cult audience. The University of Southern California is holding a yearly “Ed Wood Film Festival” in which students are competing to produce short films in Wood’s style. Wood’s films also have been shown in the TV program “Mystery Science Theater 3000″, and there exists even a new baptist group of “Woodites” who celebrate Ed Wood as their savior.

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109707/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_14

HIGH NOON (1952)

 

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On the day of his wedding and retirement, Marshal Will Kane all of a sudden must face gangster Frank Miller, who was released from prison instead of being hanged and has gathered a gang of three to kill him.

This psychological western directed by Fred Zinnemann won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Gary Cooper), Best Editing, Best Music and Best Song (Dimitri Tiomkin), and was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. On a budget of 750,000 US $, it made 18,000,000 US $ in the theaters worldwide in 1952.

The film was very popular despite some mixed reactions, because of it’s political implications. Oddly enough, many of those views feel paradox today: In the communist Soviet Union the film was criticized as “a glorification of the individual.” Actor John Wayne who was a supporter of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPA) stated that High Noon was the most un-American thing he had ever seen in his whole life.

The film was shot in the times of the “Second Red Scare“, and writer/producer Carl Foreman (who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for “The Bridge on the River Kwai” in 1957) ended up being blacklisted.

The film’s stars are Gary Cooper as the Marshal, Grace Kelly as his Quaker bride, Lloyd Bridges as Deputy Marshal and Katy Jurado (who won as first Mexican actress ever a Golden Globe for her role) as Helen Ramirez. Look out for “Wolfman” Lon Chaney, Jr. as Martin Howe and Spaghetti Western cult star Lee Van Cleef as one of the bad guys.

“I will always think of myself as a Hollywood director, not only because I grew up in the American film industry, but also because I believe in making films that will please a mass audience, and not just in making films that express my own personality or ideas.” (Fred Zinnemann)

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044706/?ref_=sr_1

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

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Famous silent movie star Norma Desmond’s career has faded to oblivion. Eager to make a comeback she chooses young B-Movie screenwriter Joe Gillis to fix her script. But during the process, Norma starts to fancy him. Financially dependent on her, it becomes more and more difficult for Joe to refuse her.

This film noir was directed by Austrian immigrant Billy Wilder (1906-2002) who is considered to be one of the top directors and writers during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Among his credits are classics like “Double Idemnity” (1944), “The Lost Weekend” (1945), “Sabrina” (1954) and “Some Like It Hot” (1959).

Although not all Hollywood “insiders” – some older movie stars and in particular MGM studio boss Louis B. Meyer – were very fond of Sunset Boulevard, it managed to garner 11 Academy Award nominations and 3 Academy Awards (Best Script, Best Art Direction, Best Score). The critical reception was tremendous, and also financially the film had a moderate success (it did well in the metropolitan areas, but poor in the countryside). In 1998, Sunset Boulevard was selected to be number 12 of AFI’s 100 best American movies.

Director Billy Wilder gathered a great crew (eight time Academy Award winner Edith Head for the costumes, composer Franz Waxman, art director Hans Dreier, make-up artist Wally Westmore) and cast: Gloria Swanson, herself a faded star from the silent era, as Norma Desmond, the up-and-coming William Holden as the young writer, and legendary silent filmmaker and actor Erich von Stroheim as Norma’s servant Max. In special appearances one can see other greats of the past: Comedian Buster Keaton, director Cecil B. DeMille, actress Anna Q. Nielsen and actor H.B. Warner.

The film’s story is said to be inspired by the life of actress Norma Talmadge – a superstar of the silent screen that did not succeed in making the transition to the talkies, had an affair with actor Gilbert Roland (who was 12 years younger than herself) and spent her later days in wealthy retirement. Another reference is to the mysterious murder case of film director William Desmond Taylor.

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043014/?ref_=sr_2

Jesse James (1939)


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The ordinary farmer boys Jesse and Frank James turn into the country’s most notorious outlaws when ruthless railroad agents try to take away their property.

Based on real life characters, the James brothers became one of Hollywood’s idealized and  glorified symbols for righteous people that were forced to get on the wrong side of the law.

Jesse James was directed by Henry King (“David and Batsheba”, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” a.o.), and supported by legendary character actor Henry Fonda as the older brother Frank, western star Randolph Scott as Marshall Will Wright, and horror legend John Carradine as Bob Ford, one can see the very handsome Tyrone Power in the role of  the main character. Over the years this story was adapted many times for the big screen, and although recent portrayals have become more and more realistic, from this film on it stayed to be a Hollywood tradition to use some of their coolest and best looking guys for this part:

Roy Rogers (“Jesse James at Bay”, 1941), Audie Murphy (who actually played Jesse twice in “Kansas Riders”, 1950, and  “A Time For Dying”, 1969!), Robert Wagner (“The True Story of Jesse James”, 1957), Ray Stricklyn (“Young Jesse James”, 1960), James Keach (“The Long Riders“, 1980), Kris Kristofferson (“The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James”, 1986), Rob Lowe (“Frank and Jesse”, 1994), Colin Farrell (“American Outlaws“, 2001), and eventually Brad Pitt (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford“, 2007).

However, despite these idealizations of the American outlaw in film, Jesse and Frank James were tough gangsters who were merely caring for themselves and their families than others who were in need. So, what do you think was the reason for such a positive portrayal?

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031507/?ref_=fn_al_tt_3

The Roaring Twenties (1939)

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WWI veteran Eddie Bartlett cannot find employment after his homecoming and soon has to realize that he is a “forgotten man”. Will he be able to keep his integrity as a human during his struggle for survival?

James Cagney, one of Hollywood’s greatest “tough guys”, gets support by the legendary Humphrey Bogart (who was selected by the AFI in 1999 for being US cinema’s greatest male star) at the beginning of his career.

Also starring Priscilla Lane, Gladys George and Jeffrey Lynn, the film is directed by veteran director Raoul Walsh – former assistant, editor and actor of D.W. Griffith for his controversial masterpiece “The Birth of a Nation” (1915).

Cagney about actors: “Without you, they have an empty screen. So, when you get on there, just do what you think is right and stick with it.”

He was strongly admired as one of the greatest actors of all time by many famous film professionals, among them Orson Welles, Marlon Brando, Stanley Kubrick, Clint Eastwood and Malcolm McDowell.

Warner Bros. produced a number of other significant gangster films during the Thirties that have distinct themselves from the usual escapist entertainment of that period: Little Cesar (starring Edward G. Robinson, 1930), The Public Enemy (with James Cagney, 1931), Scarface (with Paul Muni, 1932), I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (with Paul Muni, 1932), The Petrified Forest (with Humphrey Bogart, 1936) and Angels With Dirty Faces (with Cagney and Bogart, 1938) which is considered to be the last of the series.  Ten years later, James Cagney returned one more time to the portrayal of a gangster for Warner Bros. and director Raoul Walsh in the classic film noir “White Heat” (1949).

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031867/

Gold Diggers of 1933

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During the Great Depression four poor actresses and a Broadway show unexpectedly get financial support from a young and aspiring musician. But from where did he get that much money?

Joan Blondell and Dick Powell (who were married from 1936-1944), Ruby Keeler, Warren William and a young Ginger Rogers (famous for her later partnership with Fred Astaire) are starring in this highly entertaining musical film directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Filmed on a budget of estimated 433,000 US $, the movie features four gorgeous dance sequences by legendary choreography Busby Berkeley (1895-1974). All songs are composed by Harry Warren (Three Oscars and eight nominations) who wrote many standards like “Jeepers Creepers”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo” or “Lullaby of Broadway”.

Gold Diggers of 1933 gained great commercial success, but was actually one of the first American films being altered before distribution in order to avoid state censorship. In 2003, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0024069/?ref_=sr_2