Film Review: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Release Date: September 9th, 1951 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Tennessee Williams, Oscar Saul
Based on: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Music by: Alex North
Cast: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden

Charles K. Feldman Group, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don’t tell truths. I tell what ought to be truth.” – Blanche

I’m a fan of Elia Kazan’s noir movies but I had never seen this picture, which really isn’t noir, but it employs a similar visual style and pacing.

This is considered one of Kazan’s best films, alongside On the Waterfront, which also stars Marlon Brando and is also a movie I haven’t seen.

This motion picture is about a woman, who had fallen on really hard and tragic times, moving in with her sister and her sister’s husband in New Orleans. This woman, Blanche, lost her husband to suicide and it’s alluded to that he was gay. However, she tells her sister that she is on leave from her teaching job due to anxiety.

As the story rolls on, we learn that Blanche is full of shit and she often times embellishes and flat out lies about things because she is hiding how screwed up she and her life is. Granted, she does this more to convince herself and live in a fantasy world. But this does draw the ire of the husband, Stanley.

Stanley is a gruff asshole most of the time but he does love his wife and doesn’t like this interloper, who has her claws too deeply into his romantic and social life since she moved in on a lie.

Their dislike of each other grows with each passing scene and it culminates in a physical fight where it’s alluded to that Stanley probably raped her. In the Broadway play, he did rape her but in the film, due to the morality code, such things couldn’t happen onscreen.

The ending is really tragic and hard to watch but everything falls apart for everyone but for each person, it’s also probably for the best, looking at the bigger picture.

One thing that stands out in this picture, above all else, is how stupendous the acting is between Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. There are some powerful scenes throughout this movie and honestly, there aren’t any weak or wasted ones. Everything in this has purpose and thanks to Kazan’s direction, he really got the absolute best out of his core cast.

The film also looks amazing, even if it mostly takes place in a very dilapidated apartment in the French Quarter. The New Orleans architecture really gives the movie a very specific and very lived in world that probably felt somewhat exotic to those in the 1950s that had never been down to Cajun country.

In the end, this isn’t my favorite Elia Kazan picture but it is still really damn good and you become pretty immersed in this world he crafted for the big screen.

It’s also hard to believe that this was just Brando’s second film. The guy had “it” from the get go.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Pollyanna (1960)

Release Date: May 19th, 1960
Directed by: David Swift
Written by: David Swift
Based on: Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter
Music by: Paul Smith
Cast: Hayley Mills, Jane Wyman, Karl Malden, Richard Egan, Adolphe Menjou, Agnes Moorehead

Walt Disney Productions, 134 Minutes

Review:

“We looked for the good in them, and we found it, didn’t we?” – Reverend Paul Ford

There are few motion pictures as sweet and heartwarming as this one.

It’s been at least three decades since I’ve seen this film but just about everything that Disney put out with Hayley Mills as the star was a classic in my book. Well, except maybe those ’80s Parent Trap sequels but I guess I’ll revisit those in the future to see how they measure up.

But this is a pretty good film that showcases Mills’ natural talent and displays just how charismatic she was and how infectious her charm could be.

I didn’t really love this movie as a kid. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t something I wanted to watch more than a few times because I would’ve rather spent my time watching action, adventure, monsters and spaceships.

As an adult, I was really impressed with this film and I kind of felt like I bonded with it in a way that I never had before. Sure, it’s more of a girls’ movie if you take it at face value but it has a message for all humans and it’s a great message: always look for the positives even in the worst situations.

While that may sound cliche and cheesy, this film presents it in a really lighthearted, digestible and pleasant way. And I don’t think that the film’s message and impact would have been nearly as strong without Pollyanna being played by someone as capable as Mills.

The film is actually an ensemble piece that Mills is the center of. She comes to town to live with her rich aunt after the death of her missionary parents. Pollyanna then touches everyone in town in a pretty profound way that brings people together and helps to unite a community that really needs it.

But there are so many colorful and unique characters that every interaction that Pollyanna has with someone is pretty entertaining and serves a real purpose in progressing the plot towards its emotional conclusion.

Pollyanna might feel dated and slow in parts but it’s a movie with a good message that is timeless. It’s also a well made and beautiful film with equal parts drama, comedy and charm.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hayley Mills Disney movies.

 

Film Review: The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971)

Also known as: I Am an Eyewitness (Japanese English title)
Release Date: February 12th, 1971 (Milan premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Bryan Edgar Wallace, Dardano Sacchetti, Luigi Cozzi, Luigi Collo
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak

Mondial Te.Fi., Seda Spettacoli S.p.A., Labrador Films, Terra-Filmkunst GmbH, Constantin Film Verleih GmbH, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing’s easy for me. I can’t even knock over a chair without getting caught.” – Gigi, the Loser

I love giallo movies and I have been a fan of Dario Argento since I first experienced Suspiria pretty early in life. For some bizarre reason, I have never seen The Cat O’ Nine Tails. It is part of Argento’s Animal Trilogy, which are three films released consecutively but are unrelated, other than being directed by Argento, having an animal name in their titles and having similar themes from a narrative and stylistic standpoint.

To be brutally honest, while I enjoy the film, overall, this was the slowest old school Argento movie that I have seen. There were aspects of the film that were interesting but it was a boring experience overall.

This has the same visual flair that Argento gave us in The Bird with Crystal Plumage but it seemed to be shot more straightforward and lacked the cinematography and lighting flourishes he employed so well in his previous movie. Where most Argento movies, especially the ones of the ’70s and ’80s, felt so majestic, this one feels very pedestrian for a giallo. Luckily, Argento would embrace his patented stylistic flourishes and give us some vivid nightmares after this picture.

The story is about a middle-aged blind man who helps a newspaper reporter try to solve a series of murders. The murders are connected to a pharmaceutical company’s secret research. The two men then become targets of the killer and must try to outwit the murderer while trying to find out the truth behind it all.

The narrative really is a solid murder mystery that almost has film-noir elements to it. There are those patented noir twists, turns and curveballs that keep you guessing. In some regard, it is an example of a relation between some giallo films and the American and British noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s. I’ve often called giallo a bridge between noir and slasher flicks and this is an example of how I came to that theory.

This isn’t one of Argento’s best and he even said that it was his least favorite film that he directed. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile, especially to fans of his work that want to see how he evolved from his earliest films to his more famous movies.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other two films in Argento’s Animal TrilogyThe Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies On Grey Velvet.

Film Review: Murderers’ Row (1966)

Release Date: December 20th, 1966
Directed by: Henry Levin
Written by: Herbert Baker
Based on: Murderers’ Row by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Dean Martin, Ann-Margret, Karl Malden, Camilla Sparv, Dean Paul Martin, Desi Arnaz Jr.

Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Well what shall I do with the costume?” – Miss January, “Drop it in the ashtray.” – Matt Helm

Man, I really love these Matt Helm movies with Dean Martin. There is also four of them so this is really a quadrilogy of James Bond parodies three decades before the more famous parody trilogy Austin Powers.

Dean Martin is just the epitome of cool, even more so than anyone who ever played the James Bond character. Martin existed on an otherworldly level when it came to cool and because of that, these films sort of have an edge even on the James Bond franchise. Well, at least in the realm of pure coolness.

They also have a ’60s go-go vibe, mixed with a Tiki aesthetic and feel like they could fit within the same universe as the 1960s Batman television show. These movies are fun, entertaining and pretty hilarious. Martin is just a lovable guy, even with his womanizing ways. He exudes a certain kind of panache that is missing in modern times because such characters aren’t considered “socially acceptable” anymore. While some may consider Dean Martin a relic of a bygone chauvinistic era, I think he’s a harmless and wholesome guy that just appreciates a pretty girl and isn’t afraid to express his admiration. Granted, if he existed today, he’d probably be one of the dozens upon dozens of Hollywood men accused of something naughty.

In this film, Martin is joined by Ann-Margret, who was a mega star at the time. Despite the significant age difference, which was never really an issue for James Bond, it was cool seeing Dean Martin and Ann-Margret come together and star in this film, almost working as a tandem in the second half of the story.

Karl Malden plays the villain and he was a well-known veteran actor at the time that brought some extra gravitas and legitimacy to this production. While his role here wasn’t as challenging as his roles in On the WaterfrontA Streetcar Named Desire or Patton, he looked to be having fun and he really brought something to the picture that was lacking in the first film, even though I liked Victor Buono as the bad guy in that one.

These Matt Helm movies aren’t necessarily cinematic masterpieces but they are a blast to watch. Dean Martin was always great but I love seeing him play a fun loving super spy probably more than any other role he’s had. And as much as I loved the first film, this one is a wee bit better.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The SilencersThe Ambushers or The Wrecking Crew: the other Matt Helm films.