Playing Catch-Up: The Hot Rock, Krisha, Tiger Shark

The Hot Rock (Peter Yates, 1972). This adaptation of a Donald Westlake novel — featuring a screenplay that was William Goldman’s first produced work following his Oscar win for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — is a lithe and cheeky heist film. Robert Redford plays John Dortmunder, a professional thief freshly released from his latest stay is prison. Mere minutes pass before he’s roped into a new scheme involving the theft of an African gem on display in the Brooklyn Museum. What follows is a series of setbacks — all smartly plausible — that require Dortmunder and his assembled … Continue reading Playing Catch-Up: The Hot Rock, Krisha, Tiger Shark

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Ten

#10 — Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941) Back when I was writing and editing for Spectrum Culture, I had a few little victories that I treasured whenever I was a participant in building one of our semi-regular lists. None of these was more satisfying than leading the campaign to anoint Barbara Stanwyck’s turn as Sugarpuss O’Shea as the Best Comedic Performance of 1941. Despite my booming pride, I don’t think it was all that tough of a fight. Arguably, Stanwyck’s stiffest competition came from her other justly loved comedic acting turns from the same year: as Ann Mitchell in Meet … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Ten

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Twenty-Six

#26 — Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948) At the midpoint of this particular countdown, this is the fourth Howard Hawks film included. It says something significant about the director that each has belonged to a distinctly different genre. Sure, there’s a little bit of film noir blood running through both To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, but the former is a wartime drama and the latter a detective story, the shared pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall making them seem more similar than they really are. The other film covered thus far, His Girl Friday, can make a … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Twenty-Six

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Twenty-Seven

#27 — To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1944) Lauren Bacall was nineteen years old when she made her film debut in To Have and Have Not. Famously spotted on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar by Nancy Keith, the wife of director Harold Hawks, Bacall was given the role of Marie Browning. Nicknamed Slim, just like Keith, the character was a singer in a bar, spotted by Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart), the captain of a small chartered fishing boat. More importantly, Slim was designed to provide the formidable match for the film’s leading man. As Hawks explained to Bogart, “You … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Twenty-Seven

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Thirty-Three

#33 — The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946) Though The Big Sleep would never be considered experimental enough to suggest that it’s deliberating courting an antinarrative approach, it does oddly wind up making its own accidental argument about the invalidity of sanctifying cogent storytelling. Stories about the convoluted plot of the film flummoxing practically everyone involved are legendary. Based on a Raymond Chandler novel of the same name, the film had three formidable writers credited on the screenplay: William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman. Additionally, with Howard Hawks in the director’s chair, The Big Sleep boasted one of the … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Thirty-Three

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Thirty-Four

#34 — His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940) According to Hollywood lore, the simple and brilliant notion that changed His Girl Friday from a straight adaptation of the play The Front Page, which had been filmed within the preceding decade, was hit upon largely by accident. Howard Hawks had his female secretary read the lines of male character Hildy Johnson while auditioning actors to play the other lead, Walter Burns. Something about the back-and-forth made Hawks realize that the film could be bolstered by carrying that gender switch into the production proper, which also opened up the possibility of incorporating a fractious … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Thirty-Four

Beresford, Fletcher, Ford, Hawks, Twohy

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford, 1949). The film is the second of Ford’s loose “Cavalry Trilogy.” It’s well-regarded, as are most of Ford’s collaborations with John Wayne, but, while it may be a sort of cinematic sacrilege to say so, the film is little more than a plain-footed entertainment. That assessment seems more damning than it is. The film is expert and buoyant and infused with a nice mix of wit and charm, all qualities that seemingly came naturally to John Ford when he was more concerned with making something simply satisfying than a work of grave importance. … Continue reading Beresford, Fletcher, Ford, Hawks, Twohy