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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Robert Mitchum does not get more broody than in this film noir classic. He’s hired by wealthy Kirk Douglas to track down Douglas’ wife. Once Mitchum finds her, he is enamored and falls in love. She, of course, turns out to be a true Femme Fatale and it all spirals downhill from there. Remade in 1984 as Against All Odds, this classic features Mitchum in one of his most complex performances. He has to be everything in this movie…loving, scared, scorned, troubled, etc. And he plays all of the emotions with his classic “shrug-of-the-shoulders” demeanor. A must see for any film noir fan.

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Irene Dunne, supposedly dead, returns after being gone for years to find husband Cary Grant remarried and on his honeymoon. When she goes to the hotel and Grant sees her, his new wife is forgotten about. But, the couple does have other problems, such as Grant finding out that while Dunne was stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere, she was not alone. Remade in 1963 as Move Over, Darling with Doris Day and James Garner, who can’t surpass the superb performances of the Grant/Dunne team. This is the second of three pairings with Dunne and Grant (the first being 1937’s social comedy The Awful Truth and the last was 1941’s tear-jerker Penny Serenade). Of all three films, this one, I feel, gives off the most laughs and chemistry between the two stars.

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I went into this one with low expectations. I had heard that Denzel Washington plays a troubled soul in Man on Fire, one who has had his fair encounters with criminal behavior. This depiction immediately took me back to Training Day, where Washington plays a corrupt cop in a role that earned him his first Best Actor Oscar. I did not like Training Day and even though Washington gives an extreme and powerful performance, I could not help thinking Man on Fire would be more of the same “bad guy” Washington. This time, though, the movie worked from start to finish, with only a few minor glitches along the way. Washington’s character, Creasy, is a man in torment. He accepts the job of guarding young Dakota Fanning’s character, Pita, as kind of a last resort before suicide or another form of self-destruction (Creasy is a rampant alcoholic in the beginning of the film). The beginning is strengthened by the touching relationship between Pita and Creasy. At first, he tries his best to keep his distance from this young girl but she softens him up and wins him over in a completely realistic way. This story could have become very trite during these scenes with Washington succumbing to Fanning’s charms without justification, but with credit to both actors, they are able to make the transition from strangers to friends natural and convincing. The second part of the movie continues to get its strength from the relationship between Creasy and Pita, but in a more dramatic and deeper way. Sure, there are parts of this film that are highly unbelievable and over-the-top. But, it’s an action movie. Most action movies provide more unbelievable entertainment that realism, whereas this is not the case here. For the most part, this film speaks true, mostly because of the relationship between and the performances by Washington and Fanning.

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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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Not being one of Roman Polanski’s biggest fans, I was initially apprehensive about this one. But, I like Harrison Ford and Betty Buckley so I gave it a try. It is a sharp, exciting thriller that really utilizes the feel and atmosphere of Paris. Many thrillers fall short of using location to heighten or complicate the suspense. Polanski really captures the essence of Paris here…from the elegant, tourist side to the dark, seedy underbelly. The plot keeps pretty simple…an American doctor, in Paris for a convention, is convinced his wife has been kidnapped. Yes, it is a little more convoluted than that, but that’s the gist of it. From there, Polanski weaves a thrilling tale of intrigue that will keep you riveted until the finale.

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A good thriller by Kenneth Branagh…who is not your typical “thriller” director. Maybe that’s what keeps this one original—Branagh’s unusual take on the suspense genre. Well, whatever it is that makes this film witty and clever, it works. Set in two time periods, it tells two stories that at first seem mostly separate but then begin to reveal some joint characteristics. The 1940s part is shot in black and white and revolves around a couple who appeared to be madly in love…at least until one of them is killed and the other is accused of the murder. The present-day story (shot in color) deals with a woman who is suffering from amnesia and the private investigator trying to help her. How these stories interweave is the original part. Branagh does a great job of holding off on the suspense until just the right time. But, once it kicks in, watch out!

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Civil War veteran Ethan spends more time wandering the West than he does with his family. When he finally comes home, he soon finds himself searching once again: this time, for his sole-surviving nieces who were kidnapped after a raid on his brother’s home by Indian chief Scar. Many consider (including myself) this the best work from the frequent collaboration of John Wayne and director John Ford. The vistas from Ford’s famed location Monument Valley never looked more stunning. Wayne never was more tormented and troubled, really showing his acting range in this one. What a brilliant combination!

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This is one of the films that sealed Alfred Hitchcock’s destiny early on in his career, along with The 39 Steps. The beginning opens a little confused and disorganized but once Hitchcock moves the action to a train, everything comes into place. The story is simple enough with a woman going missing on a train. The one woman who talked with the vanished lady makes it her mission to find out what happened to this missing woman. All of the tell-tale Hitchcock signs are here…mistaken identity, the “wronged” man/woman, and, of course, a little romance and humor. Some elements of the film almost seem “screwball” in how outlandish they are, but since it is a good story with good characters, we allow Hitchcock to take us along for the ride.

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