Sunday, June 24, 2012

1935 Response

I should probably do a MOONRISE KINGDOM review soon, but first...some belated 1935 talk.

Brandon, great list. Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you. I tried to sit down and write about a lot of these films and couldn't. I still don't think I've done a good job, but here's some thoughts regardless:

There's no point beating around it, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is the best horror film of the 30s and one of the best horror films ever made, period. It's often praised for having these subversive or taboo subtexts to it (it's definitely rich in this regard), but it's also just this incredibly stylish and emotional piece of raw entertainment. It just works on so many levels.
A horror spectacle that is infused with deep pathos and lingering sadness. Plus, it's pretty short and easy to watch. That's something not to be undervalued.

RUGGLES OF RED GAP is a criminally undervalued and underseen comedy from the great Leo McCarey. It's so damn funny. The interplay between Laughton and Charles Ruggles is just as gold as comedy gets. Two genius comedic performances. Thank you Edward Norton for having this in your five favorite films list on Rotten Tomatoes. Hadn't even heard of it until I saw it on there. How is this film not talked about more?

(Speaking of Laughton, if you ever need proof of how incredible an actor he was, look no further than this year in which he performed in polar opposite roles as both the hilarious Ruggles and the odious Captain Bly in MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY. Amazing.)

The genius of Hitchcock fully emerges in THE 39 STEPS. Probably his first masterpiece and perhaps the quintessential wrong-man picture. What a ridiculously entertaining one it is too. The thing I love about this film (and a lot of Hitchcock's films) is how truly well-written, funny, and gregarious it is in between moments of suspense and thrills. What makes Hitchcock so great is that he was able to create complete films like this one where everything is done right in addition to all the stylish set-pieces and terrific action. Hitch's films are wonderful as a whole, masterworks in the details.

TOP HAT is my favorite Astaire/Rogers picture. All the films they made together in the 30s were pretty similar in plot, and some would say, probably just expensive excuses to perform dazzling dance numbers, but TOP HAT stands out to me as one that works perfectly as a romantic comedy even without all the astonishing dancing. It's incredibly witty, charming, and delightful as a gauche love story between the immaculately paired duo. That being said, there's no reason to take anything away from the dancing and singing either. Astaire's dancing was obviously on another planet, and anytime he gets on screen and begins tapping, it's a spectacle to be cherished and dazzled over. Also terrific are Berlin's songs, with "Cheek to Cheek" being probably the most well-known song from any of Astaire/Rogers films and having one of the most famous dances in movie history. This is a magical film.

John Ford's life-long interest in his Irish roots and the IRA comes out strong in THE INFORMER, a gorgeously framed and deeply moving moral tale about betrayal, contrition, and the unfathomable depths of forgiveness. Victor MacLeglan was often used in comedic roles later in Ford's career, but here he's completely devastating as a man who sells his friend out for a chance at a new life. How about the final moments of this one? A real knock-out.

I haven't seen THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN, BARBARY COAST, or ROBERTA. I'd very much like to see them all.

G-MEN, I love, obviously due to the genius of Cagney. He makes everything great and endlessly watchable. This one finds him challenging his gangster persona and fighting on the other side of the law, making heroes out of Hoover's boys. Again, what makes this one work so well and rise above mere propaganda is the man at the center of it all. The depth of Cagney's sincerity means you utterly believe everything he says and does as an actor, and you are right there along side his character's trajectory.

I just watched SYLVIA SCARLETT last week or so. I really like it a lot. Grant and Hepburn are such an inimitable pair. They are both a lot of fun in this one, and even quite moving towards the end, when Grant sacrifices himself to give Hepburn the love and happiness she wants. It's a really sweet final moment. It reminds me why I love old movies in the first place.

I obviously love A NIGHT AT THE OPERA more than you. It's probably the last truly great Marx Bros. film.

You definitely should see Ford's THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING. It's a great and rare comedy from him. You'll love it.

I'd definitely recommend DAVID COPPERFIELD as well. It's one of the best Dickens' adaptations right alongside Lean's.

I apologize for not having more to say or offer. My brain's in a rut this weekend.

Anyway, here's my latest 1935 list. I'm still dying to see GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935. I'll probably watch ALICE ADAMS on TCM in a few weeks. And, of course, I'm really looking forward to watching A TALE OF TWO CITIES at BCF next month. You should come out for that one, Brandon.

1. The 39 Steps (Hitchcock)
2. Bride of Frankenstein (Whale)
3. Ruggles of Red Gap (McCarey)
4. A Night at the Opera (Wood)
5. Top Hat (Sandrich)
6. The Informer (Ford)
7. “G” Men (Keighley)
8. The Whole Town's Talking (Ford)
9. David Copperfield (Cukor)
10. Sylvia Scarlett (Cukor)

HM: Captain Blood (Curtiz), Mutiny on the Bounty (Lloyd), Anna Karenina (Brown), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Dieterle, Reinhardt), The Ghost Goes West (Clair), Triumph of the Will (Riefenstahl), Hands Across the Table (Leiser)

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