My five favorite classic film discoveries of 2018
This week we closed the chapter on 2018, and while I didn't get a lot accomplished in the writing or photography department, I did quite a few films under my belt.
I have a terrible habit of watching films that I've already seen. I spend a solid twenty minutes arguing with myself while choosing a movie to watch. I always end up choosing something I know I'll like and at the end of the day I make the decision that I'd rather not waste time on something I might not like. I shoot for something I know I'll like. Only about 15 percent of the time I’ll make the time to sit down and discover a new film.
This year I discovered several films I enjoyed but there were five that really stuck out.
1) There Was a Crooked Man, 1970.
This film starring Kirk Douglas and Henry Fonda was way out of my wheelhouse. I shy away from westerns, but this is not your typical western. I found myself on the couch one particular Sunday watching another film on TCM and this movie immediately followed. I was intrigued by how unique this film was. I can fully admit it isn't for everyone. There is nudity, sex, and profanity but the story draws you in from the get-go.
Paris Pitman, Jr. (Douglas) pulls off a major robbery and hides his loot in the hills of Arizona. After he’s captured, he’s sentenced to an Arizona Prison. The warden offers him a deal for half of his money, but after the warden’s murdered during an inmate riot, Pitman has to come up with another plan to get out of the prison.
The new warden (Fonda) comes in, Warden Lopeman and tries to reform the prison and improve the conditions and prisoners. Pitman pretends to be a changed man to earn the Wardens trust. The warden uses Pitman to impress the governor when he visits. Meanwhile, Pitman earns the trust of his fellow prisoners to plan an escape during the governor's visit.
As the riot erupts Pitman turns on all of his fellow prisoners and is the only one to make it out. The warden makes it his mission to find Pitman and bring him back to the prison.
Pitman goes to where he has hidden his money in a pit of rattlesnakes with the warden in hot pursuit. As he pulls the money out of the bag, a rattlesnake bites him. When the warden gets there, Pitman is already dead. The warden takes Pitman's body back to the prison atop his horse, leads him into the prison as he turns and heads off to Mexico with the $500,000.
I don't know what it was about this movie, but I was intrigued by it. I thought Fonda and Douglas were both fabulous in it. This film has an all-star cast including Hume Cronyn, Warren Oats, Burgess Meredith, John Randolph, Lee Grant, Alan Hale Jr., and Martin Gabel. It was a huge surprise to me and one I will find myself watching every time it’s on.
2) Theodora Goes Wild, 1936.
I knew I would love this movie; I just had a hard time getting a chance to see it. I was supposed to catch it at The Turner Classic Film Festival in 2017 I believe, but for some reason, I wasn't able to. When FilmStruck announced they were, unfortunately, shutting down at the end of November, I raced to get through the most important films in my queue. This was top priority, and I am so glad that I made time for it.
Theodora (Irene Dunn) is a small town church-going girl who lives with her two spinster aunts, who writes under the pen name Caroline Adams. Caroline has a bestselling racy book that has the small town up in arms. Theodora heads to New York to visit her uncle but actually goes to visit her publisher who is the only person who knows her true identity. The book's illustrator Michael Grand (Melvyn Douglas) visits the office and invites himself to dinner with Theodora and her publisher.
Michael becomes intrigued by Theodora and tracks her to her hometown. He blackmails her into hiring him as her gardener. They start spending a lot of time together. The women of her literary circle and her aunts notice that she is with him quite a bit, so she tells them that she loves him. When she tells him that she has announced her love to the group of them he becomes upset and leaves town.
Theodora goes to New York to his apartment. He tells her he loves her, but he is married and has to stay married until his father's term as lieutenant governor is over so they can avoid a scandal. Theodora stays at his apartment and goes public with who she is. She then arranges to have the press take photos of her and Michael kissing so his wife will divorce him.
She returns home and is welcomed like a celebrity. A freshly divorced Michael comes to find her so they can be together.
You can't go wrong with Douglas or Dunne. I thought this movie was charming and hilarious. It wasn't a surprise at all but just a fun and great discovery for the year.
3. Doctor Zhivago, 1965.
I was immediately drawn to this movie as soon as I saw it. Omar Sharif and Julie Christie were brilliant. I have a customer who has been telling me about this film for years and when TCM played it on a Sunday afternoon last year I knew that I had to sit down and give it a change and I'm so glad I did. I'm not going to go into the plot details of it because honestly, I think I need to watch it a few more times to really catch everything. It's a movie that needs to been seen several times to be fully understood. Believe me, 'm going to give it a shot again soon.
4. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, 1974.
This was another film that I had on my list to catch at the TCM Film Festival but missed for one reason or another so when TCM showed it one night I had to catch it.
Four men in New York City board the same train, Pelham 1-2-3 using code names Mr. Brown, Mr. Blue, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Green. They take the passengers hostage and demand one million dollars in ransom to be delivered in an hour, or they will start killing hostages for every minute it's late.
An NYC Transit Authority Police Lieutenant named Garber (Walter Matthau) starts communication with the men. He notices that Green sneezes periodically, to which Garber always responds, 'Gesundheit." Garber concludes that one hijacker must be a former motorman.
The ransom is delivered as the deadline arrives by two patrolmen. During the standoff, Mr. Brown is shot. In retaliation, Mr. Blue kills the conductor. Mr. Blue orders power to be restored to the subway and the signals to be set to green. The hijackers override the deadman's switch so the train can be run without any controls. The hijackers ger off the train and remove their disguises and dispose of their weapons. Mr. Grey refuses to surrender his gun and is shot by Mr. Blue. Mr. Green escapes.
The train gains speed with the hostages on it as Garber trys to figure out what is going on with it. Garber figures out the hostages have defeated the dead-man feature and have escaped and returns to where the train stopped. He confronts Mr. Blue, but before he can do anything, Mr. Blue commits suicide. Meanwhile, the train triggers the automatic safeties and stops.
Garber investigates lists of discharges motormen and comes across Harold Longman (Mr. Green). He goes to his house and asks him some questions. Longman says he is innocent as Garber is leaving Longman sneezes and Garber says 'Gesundheit.' He opens the door and looks at Longman knowing that he is guilty.
The end was so brilliant it gave me goosebumps. A friend of mine told me that I would love the end and I was like, what? What could be so great about the end of this movie? Well, he was right it was the perfect ending. I didn't think I would love this movie as much as I did, but I would recommend it to anyone who would listen.
5. Where the Sidewalk Ends, 1950.
2018 was the year I fell hard for film noir. I've watched plenty of film noir films but I only started to really appreciate and love them in 2018. My dad had been telling me about this movie for years and I finally had the chance to catch it one night with him this summer. Dana Andrews is a National Treasure and has been to me since I discovered him in The Best Years of Our Lives, but only recently have I appreciated this whole new side of him.
Also Otto Preminger-finding a whole new appreciation for him as well.
Andrews plays NYC police detective Mark Dixon, who has a bad attitude. While doing some rough questioning he accidently kills a man and pins the blame on someone else. He falls in love with the man woman who was married to the man he accidently killed, and tries to pin a known murderer for his crime. At the end of the day he turns himself in for the crime and his lady (Gene Tierney) stands by him. Honestly, the entire plot is a lot more complicated and better than what I described, but its been a while since I watched it and I haven’t been able to revisit it.
Tierney is another of my recent discoveries and she is an absolute dream. I only this week watched Laura (wow!) If you've missed this gem please run and watch it as soon as you can.
Those were my favorite ‘new to me’ classic films of 2018. What films did you discover this year?