Dark Passage:

A lesser-known Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall film that, despite an un-Hollywood ending, is one of their best (THE best in my opinion). 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.

Written on the Wind:

Melodrama at its finest! Directed by high-drama master Douglas Sirk, this film will make you run the gamut of all emotions. There is scandal, affairs, wronged love, unabated passions, alcoholism, miscarriages, infertility, guns, murder, etc. Sounds good, right? Well, it is. It’s like one big soap opera, but, don’t worry…it’s a top-notch soap…with Rock Hudson, Bacall, Kirk Douglas and Dorothy Malone, who won a Supporting Actress Oscar for her role.

Designing Woman:

A great romantic comedy with a twist. Here, the couple gets married first and then they decide to get to know each other. When they do, they find out how little they have in common. This would be just a typical run-of-the-mill rom com if it weren’t for the quick, super-sharp script (which won an Oscar) and the talents of Gregory Peck and Bacall, who have fabulous chemistry that translates perfectly on the screen. A must see for any romantic comedy fans!

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BY FAR the best Romeo and Juliet adaptation out there, this film is a classic for The Bard himself would be proud of. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring two then-unknown teenage actors as the star-crossed lovers, this movie oozes sensuality, humor and utter despair. Set, as the play is, in Verona, Italy, Romeo Montague meets Juliet Capulet and they fall in love at first sight. One MAJOR problem is that the Montagues and the Capulets are major enemies. We all know the rest of the story…what’s special here is the way Zeffirelli captures the passion and the intensity of the romance. And by using teenagers, we focus on what their young, impulsive relationship might really have been like. After-all, no one is more impulsive than an adolescent. And, then there is the music Zeffirelli picked (probably the most famous part of the movie) and the way he shot the film with such lush colors and muted lighting. Basically, if you’ve never seen an adaption of this story, this is the one to watch. And if you have seen others, this one will surpass all!

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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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Are you ready for some good, Lana Turner drama? One of the Queens of the Melodrama (Imitation of Life, Peyton Place) returns in a little known film that is a dramatic gem. OK — try to beat this one: A wealthy man with political family ties marries a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. At first, everything is bliss…she has a son to pacify her mother-in-law and everything seems idyllic. But, secretly, the mother-in-law is just waiting for that chance…that one screw-up she can nail her daughter-in-law with. And, boy does she get the chance when Lana’s character accidental kills a lover in self-defense. Enter mom-in-law to clean up the mess…but there is a catch — a BIG catch. Lana must leave her life forever. Meaning, faking her death so she can and will never speak to her husband or her son again. Trapped, Lana does it. A fabulous film that is about as campy as they come.

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When a 1950s housewife falls in love with her black gardener, her life that was already in shambles threatens to complete fall apart. A great, powerful drama in the same tone of the early 20th Century melodramas, especially the Douglas Sirk-directed melodrama All That Heaven Allows. In All That Heaven Allows, Jane Wyman plays a recent widow with two grown children and Rock Hudson plays her gardener. The catch, in the Sirk film from 1955, was the age difference and that he is a lowly gardener and she is a prominent widow with means. Far From Heaven takes off where the Sirk film began and uses racial tensions as the barrier between the two potential lovers. Even though they are two different films told in two totally diverse perspectives, both of these movies are worthy of being seen for their brilliant 1950s styles and their powerful messages.

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Being as big of a film fan as I am, you would think I’d seen this one long ago. But, I never did. It was not intentional…just an oversight. Recently, I made up for that by finally watching the extended edition on DVD. This is a fabulous movie that will be around forever as a testament to filmmaking and movies in general. Destined to be a timeless classic, Cinema Paradiso tells the story of a man, Salvatore, who finds out his childhood hero has passed away. We are taken into his memory and back in time to his childhood when he first meets his hero Alfredo, a movie projectionist in a small-town cinema. Then, we move into Salvatore’s adolescence where, though Alfredo is still part of his life, his romance with a lady becomes Salvatore’s consuming passion. The movie comes full circle, back where it started with Salvatore as an adult and returning home to the town he grew up in. Cinema Paradiso is a masterpiece about filmmaking, love, regret, and loss. Just when you think it’s as good as it’s going to get, it gets better. Put off seeing this one and you’ll be sorry (like I was).

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Well, the wait is finally over for one of the last remaining hold-outs of DVD conversion. Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession is out of DVD…and a Criterion Collection edition, no less. A masterpiece of classic cinema, Magnificent Obsession is one of the best melodramas ever filmed. And Sirk’s use of color and light enhances every second of this one! RUN, do not walk, to your local store and buy or rent. It is a MUST see.

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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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A true, classic tearjerker that makes other melodramas look like cutesy comedies. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne star as young lovers who experience hardship after hardship, usually leaning on the other for support. First, shortly after their honeymoon, Dunne’s character miscarries and finds out she will not be able to get pregnant again. Then, they have a series of adoption disappointments, finally ending with them getting a child. During all of this, Grant’s newspaperman character has occupational/financial ups and downs (mostly downs). Just when the adoption seems to be going through, his career setbacks almost jeopardize the whole thing. And, it does not end there…yes, I know it’s hard to believe but there is even more heartache. Why, you might ask, would I recommend this film? Well, many people love tearjerkers and, like I said, weepers do not get any better than this. And also, it is a good story with two solid performances by Grant and Dunne (who usually work together in romantic comedies…such as My Favorite Wife and The Awful Truth) and directed by legendary filmmaker George Stevens. So, hunker down on the couch with a large box of tissues for this one.

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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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