As far as film adaptations of novels go, this is one of the best. Which is very odd since the film only covers a little more than half of Emily Bronte’s classic novel of the same title. The movie ends and avid Bronte readers must wonder…hey, what happened to the second part of the story??? And, then you’re probably wondering about me and why I called this one of the best film adaptations since it only is an adaptation of half a novel. To state my case, I will say that even though this movie is WAY too short and it does not cover much of Bronte’s original plot, the movie is a beautiful, vivid portrait of the love story between the star-crossed lovers Catherine and Heathcliff. So what if it ends in the midst of Bronte’s story (I can almost imaging her rolling over in her grave…) since the part of the novel that is filmed here is pretty close to a perfect rendition of the book. Director William Wyler follows the book closely and uses the sets to his full advantage, lavishing showing the vastness of the Yorkshire landscape. From there, actors Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon take over and enter the souls of the characters, making us believe that they are really dying inside without each other. Olivier’s performance as he is driven to madness without Catherine is one of the best he ever gave. So, for all you Bronte fans out there, do not discard this one because of its fatal flaw of cutting off the story too soon. The part that IS filmed is pure magic and well worth seeing.

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When you hear about gangs in New York, do you automatically think of the Sharks and the Jets? When is the last time you heard someone say that they feel or look pretty when you didn’t think of West Side Story and the infamous song I Feel Pretty… “I feel pretty…oh, so pretty, I feel pretty and witty and bright…” If you don’t know that song, you might want to watch or even re-watch this film and I promise that soon, you will humming at least one of its many catchy, timeless tunes. Trust me, this film is contagious. More than most musicals of its era, this one is filled with songs and characters that are actually memorable. True, there is some corny stuff here but it wouldn’t be a 1960s musical with some sentiment. Part of the “difference” of West Side Story comes from the music itself…a score and songs written by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Both men perfectly capture the rhythm and energy of New York, but without forgetting about the grime and grit that goes along with any urban setting. Speaking of New York, this one is actually FILMED there…on the streets themselves…not on a set, like most musicals (and even many non-musical movies) of the day. So, the Jets and the Sharks are fighting about territory we REALLY see and can REALLY feel. The story, for the few who do not know, is really a modern day re-telling of Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed who were doomed from the get-go. Whereas Shakespeare’s couple had feuding Italian families to hinder their romance, here it’s rival gangs and, more importantly, different cultures that get in the way of the young lovers’ happiness (Tony is in a White gang…The Jets…and Maria’s brother, Bernardo, is leader of the Puerto Rican gang, The Sharks). The real draw to this one, though, is the music…which is good since this is a musical, right? I promise after you hear a few bars of America, you will be singing along for weeks…“I like to be in America…OK by me in a America…”

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The post Pillow Talk 1960s romantic comedies could be summed up in two words: Doris Day. The country was heading into a total transformation but good old Doris was trying her best to keep the American public firmly planted in the 1940s and 1950s, which is when romantic comedies like this shined and didn’t seem as tarnished. Don’t get me wrong…I love Doris Day. I can belt out “Que Sera Sera” in the shower with the best of ‘um (you’re going to have to take my word for it). But, by the mid-1960s, her clean image as the “good” girl was wearing a little thin. This film (one of her two pairings with co-star James Garner) is no exception. Garner (as Day’s husband) seems like a caveman in this film, always barking that his wife is not home since she’s out working! The horror!!!! But, all kidding aside, this would have to be one of my most guilty pleasures. I used to say that about Pillow Talk, but at least that film won an Oscar! This one didn’t come close but it’s just as much fun and just as sweet. The plot is silly and the dialogue is very outdated by today’s standards (or even by the mid-1960s standards) but it’s just a fun film to watch. Any film that has a pool explode into a yard-full of suds can’t be half bad, right?

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What is it about this movie that makes me so uncomfortable? Is it the continual mentioning of racial issues? Is it Selina, who is visually handicapped? Is it the way Selina’s mother treats her? Well, it is all of the above…and more. This film is a striking piece of 1960s cinema…in the heart of the Civil Rights era, it demonstrates much of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others preached…that we are all human—black, white or whatever. It also shows how truly colorblind love (all kinds of love) can be. Selina plays a very emotional abused and used blind girl who happens to encounter a distinguished Black man one day in the park. She, of course, cannot see that he is Black. He can see that she is White, but befriends her since he feels completely sorry for the situation she lives in. Yes…a Black man feeling sorry for a White girl in the 1960s. Well, like I said, this movie is about being truly BLIND to color. It’s about the human condition and the soul of a person, rather than the race. The platonic love Sidney Poitier’s character feels toward Selina has nothing to do with her being White. And, the romantic love Selina feels toward Poitier has absolutely nothing to do with his color, since she doesn’t even know what he looks like. A fabulous film about how racial and social situations matter very little compared to matters of the heart.

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Everytime I see this one, for some reason I always forget the twists and turns it takes, which is good since that of course increases the suspense for me. This is a prime example of wonderful melodramatic noir films of the post-WWII era…maybe even the best example. Not as serious as Laura, (or as good) and not as over-the-top as some (such as the Joan Crawford campy classic Mildred Pierce), The Postman Always Rings Twice is a perfect mix of murder and sex. Based on the short novel written by the same author as Pierce and another murder/sex film noir classic Double Indemnity, James M. Cain, Postman finds drifter John Garfield drifting to a roadside gas station/café owned by a older guy and his sultry, younger wife, Cora, who puts the D in DAME and the X in SEX. Lana Turner has never had to play up her sensual self as much as in this film…she seems to just sizzle each time the camera is on her. And Garfield does a good job of catering to her…not being able to resist, but putting up just enough resistance to lead to trouble. Basically, a great potboiler for those cold, lonely nights.

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Mildred Pierce is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. I mean, this is an Oscar-winner (Joan Crawford won her only Academy Award for this great, over-the-top title performance), but for some reason, I always feel like I’m doing something “naughty” when I watch it. Maybe because it’s just so much fun. Not FUN on the traditional sense of a good comedy, but FUN in the fact that it’s one of the best campy melodramas ever. The story of a mother who will do anything….I mean ANYTHING…to please her spoiled brat daughter, Crawford gives one of her best performances here as the desperate, troubled Pierce who really should tell her daughter to $*%^&#&# instead of always trying to please her every selfish whim. Never is there a more evil and vindictive young female character than Pierce’s daughter, Veda. She is just AWFUL, without being actually criminal. But, what she puts her mother through is practically criminal. Watch this one for a great evening’s entertainment…and tons of melodramatic FUN.

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Ninotchka is most famous and known for that fact that it’s a Greta Garbo comedy. Garbo was a well-known actress…iconic almost…so when she made her first comedy, I guess it was natural that the film’s tagline of “Garbo Laughs” revolves around only her and not around the movie, director, or other cast members. Don’t get me wrong…Garbo is great in this classic, though I feel that she is a excellent part of a excellent comedy ensemble that was put together and made to work seamlessly by famed comedy director Ernst Lubitsch, who helmed other comic classics such as The Shop Around the Corner and Trouble in Paradise. Also, the screenplay here is written by a pre-directing Billy Wilder and his early partner Charles Brackett. Garbo plays a Russian who heads to Paris to check up on three comrades who are supposed to be selling some famed Russian jewels. Garbo’s character, Ninotchka, is a stern, tough woman who despises Paris and all of its lavishness. This is, until she meets Leon, who represents everything she loathes around capitalism, but she falls for him anyway. Since Wilder, Brackett and Lubitsch’s work often goes unnoticed next to Garbo’s aura, while you’re watching his masterpiece, make sure you occasionally take your eyes off the goddess and take note of the stellar filmmaking.

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The Lady Eve is fun. After seeing Stanwyck in a variety of Femme Fatale roles, it’s highly enjoyable to see her back at her comic roots. And, boy does she shine here as the daughter of a con-artist who is trying to score one big grift. Henry Fonda is perfectly befuddled as her prey…I’ve never really seen Fonda in a comic role like this before and I haven’t seen him since in anything that can come close to topping this. Both actors are simply brilliant in this one. Basically, Fonda plays a wealthy, naive young man on a cruise heading up the Amazon so study his love of snakes. Enter Stanwyck and her father (played by the always-great Charles Coburn) to try and “lure” Fonda into a trap to milk him out of some of his millions. Classic Preston Sturges at his finest!

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Splendid comedy remake of Ben Hecht play The Front Page with Cary Grant as a conniving editor, Rosalind Russell as a star reporter (and Grant’s ex-wife), and Ralph Bellamy as the mama’s boy Russell is trying to marry amid a hot murder story. Terrific character actors and sharp, witty dialogue add sparkle to this must-see comedy. The frantic comic banter between Grant and Russell changed the face of comedy filmmaking. After this film, comedies became more biting and cynical, with characters not afraid to “pretend” they hate each other, even though they really are madly in love. This initial hatred allows for some great nasty dialogue, which has never been better than in this film, directed by Howard Hawks.

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OK – Loretta Young won an Oscar for her performance in this film. So, right off the bat, you might think that you’re going to see a piece of high-caliber cinema…more high-brow than fun. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. This movie is pure FUN! It’s a charming, innocent romantic comedy that stars Loretta Young as Katrin, the only daughter of Swedish immigrants who…you guessed it…own a farm. She saves up enough for nursing school in “Capital City” and heads into the real world of skyscrapers and scam artists. After losing her money to the latter, she goes to work in a mansion owned by the matriarch of a political family…who also happens to live there with her single, attractive son. WOW! What a coincidence! Please don’t think I’m poking fun at this film…but to be honest it’s more of a guilty pleasure than anything. It’s not high art and Young, even though she is just perfect as Katrin, this is not an Oscar-worthy role, per se. Oscars are won for Shakespeare and for The Lion in Winter, not sweet films where the smile doesn’t leave your face throughout. So, if you are looking for an entertaining, delightful film that you might have missed, check this one out. It’s sure to please!

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