Chuck's Classic Movie Picks 8/18-8/24

Tuesday – August 19th – One of Clint Eastwood’s most overlooked and underrated films in recent years, Hereafter (2010), airs on FXM at 11:00 pm. Tackling a fractured narrative that tells three different stories simultaneously, all of which converge in the end, the theme that runs through them all is death and the afterlife.  Matt Damon stars as a clairvoyant who can communicate with the dead, French actress Cecile De France is a news reporter who had a near-death experience and Frankie McLaren plays a young boy who’s been lost since the tragic death of his twin brother.  The film suggests that any information regarding what may exist beyond our mortal plain is best left unknown as any such intelligence is seen as burden.  In the end, Eastwood provides some hope to those with faith, while Damon delivers a quiet, poignant performance.

Blog PhotoWednesday – August 20th – WhilePsycho prompted an aversion to showers, Marathon Man (1976) did the same for dentists.  Airing at 4:30 am on Encore Suspense, John Schlesinger’s thriller still packs a punch as Dustin Hoffman stars as a grad student who gets caught up in a conspiracy involving Nazi war criminals, a cache of uncut diamonds and corrupt government agents. The tension steadily mounts in this uncommonly smart genre exercise with Laurence Olivier as Szell, the Nazi with a penchant for doing dental work without administering aesthetic, giving a chilling performance.

Blog PhotoJohn Huston’s Heaven Knows Mr. Allison(1957), shown at 5:40 am on the Retroplex Channel features Robert Mitchum in one of his best performances as a downed marine who washes up on an island in the Pacific only to find a nun (Deborah Kerr) who’s been left behind.  The unlikely duo does their best to survive but must go into hiding when the Japanese arrive to build a base on the island. The chemistry and sexual tension between Mitchum and Kerr is palpable but subtle while Huston keeps the film moving along to its emotional and satisfying conclusion.

Blog PhotoThursday – August 21st – James Stewart and director Anthony Mann collaborated on five westerns in the 1950’s, putting an adult spin on the genre as each of the characters the actor played wrestled with a psychological or emotional problem, which was quite progressive for the time. The first, and in my opinion, the best of these, airing at 12:45 am on the Retroflex Channel wasWinchester ’73 (1950). The titular weapon passes through many hands over the movie’s taut 92 minutes with Lin McAdam (Stewart) in hot pursuit of the rifle as well as a mysterious bad man (Stephen McNally) who shares a dark secret with our hero. Character actor Dan Duryea is also on hand as a shifty gunman, as is a young Shelly Winters as Stewart’s love interest while Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis appear in bit parts as their careers were in their infancy. One of the things that make the film significant is that this is the first time we see Stewart display a genuinely violent streak.  Watch the scene in which he extracts some key information from Duryea or the climax, a gun battle that always sends a chill up my spine and you’ll see an actor at a crossroads, eager to push his own limits

Blog PhotoA western of an entirely different sort,Dodge City (1939) is being shown at 6:50 am on the Retroflex Channel.  Starring Errol Flynn as a cowpuncher who’s convinced to clean up the lawless town of the title, this is Hollywood hokum at its finest.  Olivia de Havilland co-stars as the frontier woman with a spine who wins the new sheriff’s heart as he takes down the bad guys right and left.  Flynn’s character is said to be Australian in order to explain the actor’s Tasmanian accent, which is about the most historically accurate thing in the movie.  However, it is great fun and features what may be the greatest bar fight in film history.

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Friday – August 22nd – Billy Wilder’s lacerating indictment of the Hollywood Dream Factory, Sunset Boulevard (1950) is being shown at 10:40 am on the Retroplex Channel and it’s just as pertinent and powerful as it was when it was first released. Gloria Swanson gives an iconic performance as the forgotten silent film star Norma Desmond who attempts to make a comeback with the aid of screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden, at his most cynical), who’s had the misfortune of being caught in the web of this mad woman.  The script is filled with one memorable line of dialogue after another while the final scene in which the insane Desmond descends the grand staircase, telling all concerned that’s she ready for her close-up, remains one of the most chilling and disturbing conclusions in film history.   

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