For a dark comedy, this one is pretty good. It’s edgy and extreme, funny without being too cutesy, and very well acted. Ben Kingsley plays Frank, a mob hit man with a problem…a drinking problem. And, like all serious addictions, it starts to affect his work. Now, when the normal guy/gal has their drinking affect their job, it’s one thing…but when a hired killer is drunk, it’s a little more serious of a problem. Sent out to San Francisco to “get clean” by his mob-boss uncle (who’s having other problems as well), he gets a job in a mortuary and joins AA. After meeting a girl, who is oddly indifferent to his profession, Frank cleans up, only to have to go back home to help his uncle with some “family” business. I’ve seen Kingsley in some mildly amusing roles, but this is pretty broad for him. And he pulls it off masterfully. And while he shines, and the other cast also holds their own, the real star of this one is the script. Sharp and witty, it’s a must see for anyone who doesn’t mind a little killing with their comedy!

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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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The Heiress is a magnificent film that defies 1940s Hollywood logic…the woman and man do not walk into the sunset hand-in-hand. Actually, what is even more defiant for a film of this era is a woman having power over a man. Yes, 1940s were the days of the powerful woman in Hollywood: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, etc. But, the films those women were in were mostly about tough ladies who needed the love of a good man to set them straight. The Heiress is nothing like that. The film begins by setting the stage that shy, naïve Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland), the wealthy daughter of a stern New England doctor, played beautifully by Sir Ralph Richardson, will probably never marry. Catherine is plain, timid, and lacks what, as her father claims, men look for in future wives…aside, of course, from her money. Enter Montgomery Clift’s Morris Townsend, who takes a liking to Catherine but her father disapproves and believes Townsend is just an opportunist. By now I’m sure you’re wondering where the “powerful” woman enters the picture. Well, Catherine learns quite a few life lessons over the course of the film and in the end she is a strong, confident woman who knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t want. Even though George Cukor was known in Hollywood circles as being the best “ladies director,” I feel that director William Wyler gives Cukor tough competition here and with some of his other movies (Roman Holiday, Mrs. Miniver, Jezebel, Funny Girl , etc.). This film is a tour de force for de Havilland (she won the Oscar), but Wyler’s brave direction increases both the power of Catherine and the tone of the whole film.

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Not for the faint of heart, this film is one of the funniest comedies I had seen in years. Frances McDormand won an Oscar for playing very pregnant Marge Gunderson…a fabulous character who is most definitely the sharpest person in the film (though that is not really much of a compliment). Marge is a police officer in Brainerd, Minnesota and she gets involved in an investigation involving kidnapping, brutal murder and theft. The script is sharp and hilarious…and the performances are all right on target. But, be warned…it is a DARK comedy. People die. People kill people. This is the Coen Brothers, after all.

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Evil Robert Mitchum comes to a small, sleepy town posing as a preacher to try and win over the hearts and bank accounts of unsuspecting ladies, preferably the desperate ones. Enter Shelley Winters with no husband and two kids, making the perfect target. The best thing about this movie is Robert Mitchum. Normally a good actor who is able to play any kind of role (cowboy, cop, soldier, good guy, bad guy, etc.), this movie took the “bad guy” role to new heights. Here his devilish acts focus around children. Even with a subject matter that can be very touchy, Mitchum gives this role his all. The end result is one of the creepiest, meanest and most ruthless characters in American cinema.

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Directed by Jules Dassin, this film is one of the best examples of film noir. Set in London, Richard Widmark plays a small-time hustler who is always too late for the big time grift. When he finally finds something that he feels might make his some serious cash, the plan backfires. Widmark is at his best here…he excels at playing lowlife losers and this is one of his best. Add Gene Tierney to the mix as Widmark’s love interest and it makes one exceptional film.

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