The quintessential Cary Grant comedy pegs him with Myrna Loy and what a team they make. Grant plays a frustrated NYC husband who according to the opening narration by Melvin Douglas (who plays Grant’s best friend and lawyer), “makes $15,000 a year” as an advertising executive. For 1948, that puts this family in the upper-middle class range, which, I guess, is why Grant yearns for more space than he, his wife and their two daughters have in their cramped Manhattan apartment. So, he gets the idea to move. And that is where the fun begins. Not the film to see if you are moving soon or especially having a new home built, but one to watch when you need something for a few easy laughs.

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When simple-minded, big-city lawyer James Stewart arrives in the town of Shinbone, he butts heads with town bully John Wayne as they fight over a woman and over how to run Shinbone. After notorious outlaw Liberty Valance comes to town, Wayne and Stewart set aside their differences to fight him. Stewart and Wayne shine as both tortured souls in their own ways. Not Ford and Wayne’s finest pairing, but with the addition of Stewart, this one is a must-see classic Western. On a side note, this film trademarked Wayne’s “pilgrim” expression, which he uses too many times to count here.

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Next time you over-do the wine during a dinner party, you might want to watch this one to remind you of how alcohol destroys people. This film is one of the few that really captures what it is like to be an alcoholic. Unlike others, such as The Days of Wine and Roses and When a Man Loves a Woman which mostly deal with the FAMILY’S struggle, The Lost Weekend is about THE INDIVIDUAL’S struggle with drink. Ray Milland stars as a writer who has taken his “social” drinking habit way too far. When he meets a girl, he tries to hide it from her at first, but that doesn’t last too long. The drinking begins to affect every aspect of his life, his personality and even his mental state. Directed by Billy Wilder, who is most know for his darkish comedies, Wilder takes this very serious subject matter and gives it a life of its own…mostly due to Milland’s powerful performance.

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If you’ve seen Laura or any other of Gene Tierney’s films, you know she usually plays a good woman. Maybe not always a perfect lady but a law-abiding, seemingly moral character. In Leave Her to Heaven, any question of morality, honor, and integrity flies out of window. Tierney plays an evil woman. This is not giving anything away or being too harsh. Right from the beginning, we find out Tierney’s not quite right, though it’s not until later in the film that she reveals her true viciousness. And, viciousness might be putting it mildly. The story revolves around Tierney’s character’s relationship with Cornel Wilde. Some of the things her character does in this film…well, they are just unspeakable. And, Tierney pulls them all off with conviction and believability. This woman who can be so innocent and naïve in other films becomes this ruthless devil without skipping a beat. Watch this one because it’s a good film, but mostly because of the GREAT performance by a truly underrated actress.

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Basically, Laura is a murder mystery, complete with a series of suspects and a hard-edged police detective, with a little love story tossed in to make things interesting. The thing that makes this film stand out above all of the thousands of other murder mystery films is the direction. Laura is a first-rate example of Film Noir, a type of film in the 1940s and 1950s that grew to represent the dark, threatening era of World War II, the Blacklist, and the Cold War. Laura is one of the first film noir films and possibly one of the best. Director Otto Preminger masterly increases suspense and romance with the right combination of lighting and the camera angles. Preminger didn’t direct many Film Noir films after this one, but he should of since he was so superb at it.

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This film, which made Alec Guinness a star all around the world, still ranks as one of the most popular British comedies of all time. The story is told by a droll, very serious young man, played by Dennis Price, who is being cut out of his royal bloodline by his stodgy, proper family. Even though Price is the MAIN character, Alec Guinness is the REAL star of this film, as he demonstrates his mastery of comedy by playing all eight members of Price’s family. Guinness’ performance is purely genius, especially with the way he changes mannerisms and other nuances for each of his eight characters. Not necessarily a fall-on-the-floor-laughing film, but a great one.

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OK—everyone has seen it. Everyone knows the story. Some people can even recite the dialogue (I would have to confess, I’m in this category). When you get right down to it, this is a great movie. Sad thing is that it gets so over-watched around the holiday season that many people have the “not again” mentality. PLEASE don’t disregard this movie just because it has been overplayed, colorized and basically abused. What director Frank Capra does here is capture a little slice of Americana—something that Capra excelled in. Unlike Capra’s other Americana films (most notably Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), this one has a dark edge—a hardness that makes us think for a second that maybe America is not all that it’s cracked up to be. That is where Jimmy Stewart’s acting genius kicks in. His portrayal of the lowly, always-disappointed George Bailey has the audience rooting him on, even when he’s at his most weak. I mean, here is Bailey, standing by a bridge, looking down into the icy waters of the river, waiting for the perfect moment to jump. Does anyone really believe he will? No—not with the genuine way Stewart breathes life into Bailey. No one with that much compassion in their heart could really ever end it all? But, that’s why Stewart is perfect as Bailey. He does give Capra a “hard” edge, all while keeping the film, at its core, a feel-good film…one that can and should be enjoyed ANY time of year, not just in the holiday season.

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This film set the stage for early romantic comedies and also gave the brilliant career of director Frank Capra a boost. While running away from the demands of her strict, wealthy father, Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) meets struggling newspaperman Peter Warne (Clark Gable) on a bus going from Florida to New York City. They cannot be more different: he likes to drink more than work and she is spoiled and prudish about everything. What should be just a two-night ride turns into a much-longer trip filled with stops and mishaps, all of which bring the two closer together, despite their differences. This movie’s sharp, witty dialogue inspired a new form of film comedy, where the characters’ initial love/hate relationship inevitably turns to romance. This comedy style was used later for films such as Howard Hawks’ 1940 classic His Girl Friday and George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story, also from 1940. Neither Gable nor Colbert wanted to make this comedy, but after they were both honored with Academy Awards for their work, they were probably glad they did. It Happened One Night also won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay Oscars.

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I’m not a pool shark. I’m not even a pool fan. But, I am a Newman fan, which makes this film good enough for me. Newman plays “Fast” Eddie Felson, a young, brash pool shark who needs a lot of sophistication and polishing if he is ever going to become the best. Enter Minnesota Fats (expertly played by Jackie Gleason) who is just the one to add some polish to the young hustler. A romantic relationship with Piper Laurie distracts Felson too much for my taste, but the George C. Scott character as Fats’ manager makes up for the diversion. Scott is brilliant here…cocky and tough — I think it is one of his best roles. And, it is one of Newman’s best roles as well…he is perfectly able to balance on that bridge between arrogant jerk and engaging sweetheart. Watch this one for his and Scott’s performances alone…and you also might want to pick up a pool cue!

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When I rewatched this one recently, I fell in love all over again with Robert Mitchum’s character (OK — and with Mr. Mitchum himself). This one is a true classic…a film that gets very little attention during the holiday season, but should be up there with those notables Miracle on 34th Street and The Bishop’s Wife. Mitchum plays a wandering ex-Army man, who really just wants to make enough money to move to California and build boats. But, to save for the trip, he works retail stores at Christmas. Janet Leigh plays a widowed single mother who works as a comparison shopper…going from store to store buying things to compare prices at different places. She encounters Mitchum during one of her buys and the sparks start from the get-go. Even though she has a fella who’s sweet on her, she and her adorable son gravitate to the charming and debonair Mitchum. I mean, I sure would. Wouldn’t you?

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