When I first saw this one years ago, I thought it was too much of a farce…too over the top…too silly. But, re-watching it, I am able now to see it’s fine details as one of America’s great broad comedies. Cary Grant is at his wackiest here…as the nephew of two matronly ladies who have begun an unusual pastime…murdering lonely old men and having them buried in the basement. We’ve all seen (and loved) Grant do screwball…but this is pretty much as slapstick as comedy can get. He’s physical and very expressive…perfect for this role as the befuddled nephew of these two crazy killers. Directed by Frank Capra, I think one of the reasons this one took a while to sink in is because it’s almost TOO over the top. But, I guess as I’m getting older, I find the need for more and more comedy. And this one will sure satisfy that need!

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This movie, forever known for the line “I don’t have to show you any stinking badges,” is more of a philosophical study on human nature than an action film. Yes, there is action and a certain sense of mystery, but the core of the film is a character study about materialism, morals and friendship. Don’t be alarmed…all of these things make it sound like a boring “educational” film, which it is most definitely not. Based on a novel by the elusive author B. Traven, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre lives up to its reputation as a true classic directed by one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th Century (John Huston). Humphrey Bogart, who had already developed a working relationship with Huston with films like 1941’s The Maltese Falcon and Key Largo also from 1948, changed his clean-cut ladies man image to take on the role of a scruffy, indigent American Fred Dobbs trapped in Mexico. With a coincidental twist of fate, Dobbs meets up with Curtin, who is just as down on his luck, and an aged prospector (Huston’s father Walter) who tells the two younger men about his good old days gold mining. That’s when it really all begins…the three of them head out of town to hunt for gold. Whether they find some of not is soon irrelevant since once in the middle of nowhere Curtin’s and especially Dobbs’s greed and paranoia starts to take over. Walter Huston’s character, Howard, is the one constant in the film. He does not change since he already has experienced the highs and lows of prospecting and knows what not to do. Also, being the oldest, Howard has the least to lose or gain from finding gold. Put all of these characters and situations together and what you have is one great film filled with flawed, yet powerful people learning an equally powerful message. Don’t worry—this film is not preachy in its morality. It just depicts how easily greed can corrupt. A good film for everyone to watch but especially recent lottery winners!

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This film is not one I can watch over and over again like most of my other favorites. Why? Well, just see it and you might get some sense of that. It’s a hard movie to watch…violent, extreme, and scary in its realistic bloodiness. It is not the type of film that I think of putting in the DVD player on a cold night when I want to make myself feel better. This, of course, does not lessen its impact on me. The first time I saw this film, I was shocked and dazed…between the violence I had just witnessed and the remarkable film I just had seen, I didn’t know how to feel. Director extraordinaire Martin Scorsese does this a lot with his films…he wants the audience to go to such emotional extremes that when the film is over, all we feel is drained. Taxi Driver is really a film about a lost and wandering man who just wants to find where he belongs. This is a VERY basic premise on what is a complicated, stylized story with Robert De Niro playing one of the century’s most complex characters, Travis Bickle, best known for the line, “You talkin’ to me?” Bickle’s confusion and desire to change the world into his own bizarre vision is what drives the film. The second film from the working relationship of Scorsese/De Niro (the first being Mean Streets), Taxi Driver is a masterpiece of filmmaking and also an intense psychological study about the downfall of a man.

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OK – I know. The setting for this film is a little bizarre. It’s a Jimmy Stewart film set in Budapest. Jimmy Stewart—the all-American boy living and working in Hungary? Strangely, neither Stewart nor Maureen Sullivan have Hungarian accents. Or dress Hungarian. Or act European in any way. Basically, this movie could have (and should have) been set in America, but since it’s based on a play by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo, film director Ernst Lubitsch must have decided to leave the setting alone. Getting past that, this is a charming, endearing film that will surely become a favorite if you like romantic comedies. This is one of the best of the genre. Lubitsch is known for his stylized and sophisticated romantic comedies and even though this one lacks a little of the polish of some of his earlier works, it still satisfies. Stewart plays a head shop clerk and Sullivan plays his co-worker/nemesis/pen-pal. Even by today’s standards the dialogue is crisp and alive, with nothing to date it after all this time. And Stewart and Sullivan are a great pairing, seeming just as perfect together when they are bickering as when they are kissing. You’ve Got Mail was a re-make of this classic, but the 1998 film lacks the style and wit of the original.

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Are the hills alive? Well, if they weren’t before this movie, they sure are now. Take the premise from Maria von Trapp’s life story and add songs and dancing and what do you have—magic! That’s what Rodgers and Hammerstein must have discovered when they began adapting this story for the stage. And, shortly after its success on Broadway, Hollywood came calling and Rodgers and Hammerstein answered, taking director Robert Wise and writer Ernest Lehman along for the ride. If you don’t like musicals, you might be advised to be especially leery of this one. The Sound of Music takes the sappiness and melodrama you normally find (in small amounts) in musicals to new heights. But, in this film with this story and with these characters, it just seems to work and I love it. Julie Andrews (never better) plays Maria, a young, fledging novice nun who just can’t seem to make her convent life work with her rebellious and free-spirited personality. Christopher Plummer plays stern and ill-tempered Captain von Trapp, the head of a family for whom she governesses. Since I already said it was sappy, you can assume that a love story between these two unlikely people develops. Now seen as more of a children’s film, this movie is very much for everyone. Sure, children like the singing and the fact that there are six kids in the cast. But, adults should also appreciate that this film, though a bit overdone, is one of the best examples of the Hollywood musical ever produced.

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Random Harvest could be called a sappy soap opera that is virtually unwatchable. It could be, but in my opinion, it’s most definitely not that. This is a highly powerful and engaging film with…yes, some very improbable circumstances. But, so what? If the acting weren’t as good as it is, maybe this one would have fell into that pile of melodramatic mush. But because Greer Garson and Ronald Colman are so believable and passionate here, I find it impossible not to enjoy the ride. Colman plays a man who has lost his memory during combat duty in WWI. At the beginning of the movie, he is in a mental institution. Garson is the woman who befriends him after he escapes. Of course, Colman and Garson fall in love and then, through a series of circumstances, he regains his memory…forgetting all about his life with Garson. Yes, I know it sounds illogical but trust me, it works…mostly because of the performances. Garson and Colman take the slightly over-the-top dialogue and bring it back into reality. They are both fabulous here…as is the entire movie in general. A great old-fashioned love story for a cold Winter night…or even a hot Summer evening…!

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A sophisticated romantic comedy directed by George Cukor about a rich, spoiled socialite (Katharine Hepburn) who learns some things about who she is and what she really wants on the eve of her second marriage. Cary Grant co-stars as her former husband who cleaned up his act and hopes to make amends with his ex-bride. Jimmy Stewart (who won his only Best Actor for this role) also stars as a reporter who gets caught up in the whole mess. Definitely the perfect film cast, the three stars do some of their best comic work in his film, especially Hepburn, who rose back to the top of Hollywood after this starring role. Reconceived as the musical High Society in 1956 with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly, but this original film didn’t need music to be a fun, entertaining ride!

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Robert Mitchum does not get more broody than in this film noir classic. He’s hired by wealthy Kirk Douglas to track down Douglas’ wife. Once Mitchum finds her, he is enamored and falls in love. She, of course, turns out to be a true Femme Fatale and it all spirals downhill from there. Remade in 1984 as Against All Odds, this classic features Mitchum in one of his most complex performances. He has to be everything in this movie…loving, scared, scorned, troubled, etc. And he plays all of the emotions with his classic “shrug-of-the-shoulders” demeanor. A must see for any film noir fan.

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Based on the novel by Ken Kesey, this movie, set in a mental hospital, focuses on the relationships between Randle P. McMurphy, the other patients on the ward, and the subtly cruel Nurse Ratched. Early on, it is established that McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) faked insanity in order to avoid a prison sentence, believing that a mental institution would be easy time. Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), the head nurse in McMurphy’s ward, makes it her mission that McMurphy’s time will not be easy. The chemistry between McMurphy and Ratched is perfect, with McMurphy trying his best to play the role of a crazy person and Ratched trying her best to keep him in line. Ratched becomes more of a villain as the film progresses, not because of any outwardly despicable things she does, but because of the little, subtle undertones that color her behavior. Nicholson’s portrayal of McMurphy is not over-the-top, but rather perfectly within the boundaries between insanity and boyish fun. At times he taunts the other patients and other times he helps them reach for life beyond the walls of the hospital. At times he teases Nurse Ratched and other times his anger surfaces when he cannot understand her manipulation. The winner of all five of the top Academy Award prizes (picture, director, writing, actor, and actress), this is an excellent film, complemented with two terrific, on-target performances.

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Who knew that lighting two cigarettes at a time would be so romantic? I guess Paul Henreid knew, since he did that for Bette Davis in this film. That scene is just one of many tributes to their characters’ love and affection for each other. Davis plays frumpy and wealthy Charlotte Vale, whose mother has a hold over her so strong that Charlotte has a nervous breakdown. While recovering, she also undergoes a physical transformation that takes her from an awkward gal into an elegant, sophisticated woman of the world. Yes, it’s a little cliché and “convenient but Davis makes her character’s sudden transformation work. Charlotte’s relationship with unhappily married Henreid soon becomes the focus of the film and even once Henreid is out of the picture, Charlotte is never able to put him out of her mind. A tour-de-force by Davis, who did many good films, but few as moving and sentimental as this one.

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