This is the classic example of film noir….more than Otto Preminger’s Laura…more than anything else of the era. Why? Well, because this one’s got everything. In a big way too….lust, murder, the perfect femme fatale, the perfect fall-guy, the perfect everything. Based on the novel by James M. Cain (who also penned The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce) and directed by Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity is a thriller from start to finish…you’re always wondering and questions and getting closer and closer to the edge of your seat. Fred MacMurray plays a sarcastic insurance salesman who catches Barbara Stanwyck’s eye when he goes to try and sell her husband some insurance. Stanwyck is unhappily married and MacMurray knows it. The one thing in their way…her husband. Like in Postman, husbands are always expendable. Stanwyck is simply the best film femme fatale ever. She’s mean without being hard. She’s cool under pressure without being too sentimental. Stylized and perfectly cast, this Wilder masterpiece set the standard for film noir films…and dared others to try and top it…which, in my opinion, no film ever did.

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A lesser-known Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall film that, despite an un-Hollywood ending, is one of their best. The chemistry between the two has never been better. The film begins from the visual perspective of Bogart’s wronged-criminal character. The camera moves with Bogart’s eyes, so the audience only hears his voice and does not see his face for the first part of the film. Once we see Bogart, the film picks up its pace some, but throughout, this film is a strong thriller. Don’t look for everything to be resolved in the end – but aside from that, this one will keep you guessing.

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Surprisingly, I didn’t see this one until I was in my 20s. I used to think Bogart was a rough, unappealing creature…that is until I saw 1954’s Sabrina and began to see him as a softer, more compassionate soul. He possesses a knack for charming women off their feet, while being just a bit brash about it. He’s still rough and tough when he needs to be, but he knows when to bring out to tough guy and when to bring out his softer side. In Sabrina, I got a sneak peak at this behavior. In Casablanca, Bogart had it perfected…his character Rick Blaine is the romantic leading man to end all romantic leading men—not because he’s OVERLY sensitive but because he’s JUST sensitive enough. Now for the story…basically it’s about a nightclub owner in Morocco during WWII (Bogart) who reunites with an old flame (Ingrid Bergman, looking her best) that he fell in love with in Paris during the German occupation of France. Complications are plentiful, such as that the “old flame” is married…to a member of the French Underground, no less, which makes him trouble to the Nazis in Casablanca. But…really the details of the plot are pretty irreverent. Why? Well, how come even though the story is rich and filled with subplots and interesting characters, people only remember the relationship between Bergman and Bogart? And even though this film is a WWII intrigue thriller, why is it mostly know for being strictly a timeless “love story?” Rent this one and see if you can put answers to these questions…

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Of the four films Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn made, Bringing Up Baby is the most fun. It’s the wildest and craziest movie made by the pair and even one of the screwier of the screwball comedies ever made. Hepburn plays a flaky—I mean REALLY flaky—socialite who scientist Grant gets involved with after a series of unfortunate mishaps. All Grant really wants to do is get money for his museum from Hepburn’s aunt (he doesn’t know it’s her aunt in the beginning). And, after falling for him early on, Hepburn does everything she can to make sure he doesn’t leave her. Even though Grant and Hepburn and just delightful here, much of the snappiness of this film should be attributed to director Howard Hawks, who sharpens his talent for screwballs here (which will help him out considerably in 1940’s His Girl Friday). Previously more know for serious dramas, Bringing Up Baby is only Hawks’ second comedy. If you in the mood for a mild comedy, look elsewhere, because this one is super-zany and very raucous.

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This film, kind of a horror-thriller, still makes me jump and wriggle in my seat, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Even though I know the outcome, it still works as an effective thriller that holds suspense throughout and features something many non-Hitchcock thrillers lack…a good plot filled with solid characters. The story is pretty simple…a released convict hunts down the witness whose testimony helped put him in jail. But, instead of killing or attacking the witness right away…once he finds him, this criminal chooses a slow torture process. He starts with stalking and then moves slowly on to more vicious and heinous things, making sure he never implicates himself at any time. Robert Mitchum plays the criminal, Max Cady, and this is a role he was born to play. I always have felt that Mitchum is a highly underrated actor and his subtly evil performance here seals, in my mind, that Mitchum never got his deserved due. Gregory Peck as the witness with the family he so desperately is trying to protect is not necessarily less impressive but this is a role Peck has played on a number of occasions…the trouble family man. He still is at the top of his game here, especially towards the end when Mitchum increases the stakes. But, this is all Mitchum’s movie…as the quintessential and un-stereotypical bad guy.

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A warm, lighthearted film set during the holiday season that involves a married couple and an angel who comes between them. Disillusioned bishop David Niven finds out that funding his church is more demanding a task than he originally thought. His troubles at work begin to consume him, causing strife in his marriage to Loretta Young. Enter Cary Grant as the angelic savior (and the most debonair angel in Heaven) who assists Niven with his work woes. At the same time, though, Grant befriends Young, who becomes quite smitten with the angel. Niven and Young shine as a confused married couple, especially Niven’s early reactions to the presence of an angel in his life. Grant perfectly downplays his role, never showing any obvious attraction for Young, but also never directly putting off her affections. Although not one of the more popular holiday films, this classic is very timely for the season just the same.

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The fun never stops in this battle of the sexes. One of the more famous pairings of legendary screen (and off-screen) duo Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, this one is almost perfect. Written by writing team Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, not much here is out of place or overlooked. The comic timing of all of the actors is spot on and Hepburn and Tracy have fabulous chemistry (I mean, why wouldn’t they?). The supporting role of the wronged wife played by the ever-clever Judy Holliday only adds to the spark of this romantic comedy. Playing a husband and wife, Tracy is a prosecutor and Hepburn is a defense attorney. Low and behold, don’t they find themselves on opposing sides of the same case. Go figure! The case involves a scorned, emotionally abused wife who follows her husband and shoots him (non-fatally) while he’s in the arms of another woman. What a perfect case for not only a great battle between a husband and his empowered wife, but for much comic banter about the roles men and women play in society. Folks, it doesn’t get much better than this!

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Billy Wilder’s comic masterpiece stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as musicians who find themselves in the middle of the mob after they witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and manage to escape. To hide themselves, they pose as females in a traveling band, where they meet Marilyn Monroe’s Sugar Cane, the all-girl band’s singer. Arguably the funniest movie in motion picture history, Lemmon and Curtis create comedy in this film just by wearing women’s clothes. But, Monroe, with her steamy, sultry performance, adds more than just cross-dressing humor to make this a well-rounded movie with more than a fair share of laughs.

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Doris Day and Rock Hudson’s first teaming together…for this zany comedy which puts Day as a single interior designer who shares a party-line with a womanizing songwriter (Hudson). Through a mutual friend, Hudson finds out Day is attractive but she has already made her dislike for him known. When he meets her, he disguises his voice and makes up a name and identity to help lead her on. This film won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and it is truly deserved—a little dated by today’s romantic comedy standards but still a great funny movie with snappy, classy dialogue.

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Director Otto Preminger really proved he was a filmmaker with clout by being able to make a film like this. Even in 1959, when Hollywood was actually THINKING first and making money second, this film was a risk. First, its dialogue gets pretty graphic (for the day). Secondly, much of the second half of the film is set ONLY in the courtroom, leaving the audience nothing to do than watch lawyers bickering and objecting. Preminger must have known what he was doing when he made this black and white, two-and-a-half-hour courtroom drama…because I dare you to take your eyes off this one for even a second. Yes, I said two-and-a-half-hours…much of it set in court with more dialogue than action. But, somehow, it works. It is a truly captivating film. James Stewart plays a quirky small-town lawyer who takes the case of an Army lieutenant who gets arrested for killing a man who allegedly raped his wife. We find this out right in the beginning and then the rest of the film is how Stewart goes about setting up his case and what steps he takes before and during trial. Sounds dull, right? Well, as I said, Preminger must have had magic up his sleeve for this one because this film is never is dull. It clips along through witness testimony and presented evidence, and all that legal fun stuff. And trust me, there is plenty of tension…I mean all along we’re wondering if Stewart is going to be able to achieve what he set out to achieve…getting Lt. Manion off for the murder…a murder Lt. Manion has NEVER denied he committed. But, it’s more than just a movie about suspense…it’s a movie about the process of the law…about how our justice system works and about how lawyers plug along and make their case. A fascinating film about a subject that could have been un-fascinating, if put in the wrong hands. Thankfully, Preminger’s hands were the right ones.

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