Classic movie fan confession…until now, I had never seen a Douglas Sirk movie.
While the credits were rolling on the delightful comedy Has Anybody Seen My Gal, I was pretty shocked when I saw “Directed by Douglas Sirk.”
You see, Douglas Sirk is nowadays most famous for directing a number of melodramatic “weepies” like Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind and Imitation of Life. I’ve been aware of these films for years, but have not made much of an effort to see them, as that’s far from my favorite genre.
But after having watched Has Anybody Seen My Gal, I can see that Sirk was far more than "just" a director of tearjerkers and social issues films. Early in his career (late 40s to the mid-50s) he made all kinds of films: musicals, crime dramas, wartime thrillers, swashbucklers and even westerns. In other words, he was just like many other journeyman directors, churning out quality mid-budget product for the major studios (in his case, Universal.)
Has Anybody Seen My Gal fits into this early period, and is far removed from his later serious works. It’s a light, joyful and witty tale, with lots of laughs and a simple moral.
After a title card that reads: "This is a story about money -- Remember it?", the movie opens in the late 1920s, with aging multimillionaire Sam Fulton (Charles Coburn) in bed, talking to his doctor and his lawyer. It quickly becomes apparent that the old man isn’t sick in the slightest, but is rather something of a hypochondriac. Fulton has summoned his lawyer because he wants to change his will.
Seems when he was a young man, he was in love with woman named Millicent, who spurned him and married someone else. This rejection so infuriated Fulton that he went out and made himself a fortune. Now in his 70s and with no family or heirs of his own, Fulton is contemplating giving his money to Millicent’s daughter Harriet Blaisdell and her family. His lawyer persuades him to go and investigate the family first, to see if they’re worthy of his legacy. So Fulton heads to the small town of Hilverton, where the Blaisdell family lives, and insinuates himself into their busy household as a paying lodger, “John Smith.”
I think most moviegoers will agree that a movie is only as good as its villain. If you go to a lot of trouble to craft a film with a terrific central hero, or group of heroes, but pit them against a weak, ineffectual, or even just plain anonymous villain, then the movie itself weakens as a result.
But if the bad guy is one for the books, a real larger-than-life, powerfully evil, hissable monster... chances are it'll be a film you’ll never forget.
In the real world, bad guys often go unpunished…in fact, as history has sadly proven time and again, they often prosper. Is it any wonder then that when it comes to the fantasy land of moviemaking, we love to see the bad guys get theirs.
Hans Gruber says sayonara at the end of Die Hard.
Of course, even in movies, the villains sometimes go unpunished. Certainly, many of the “villains” in dramas and comedies don’t die, they merely get humiliated, thwarted, lose the girl and/or the game, get shown up as the creep they are, etc. -- which is justice enough.
But in the arena of genre films, where a movie often triumphs or fails on the strength of its bad guy(s), a good villain deserves, and usually gets, a good, violent – and if possible, poetic and grandiose -- death.
I’ve seen more than my share of these kinds of films. Here are some of the more memorable examples of demonic demises which come to mind.
Beware! SPOILERS (and some violent images) ahoy!!!
Note: this post is my contribution to the My Movie Year Blogathon, sponsored by Andy over at the Fandango Groovers Movie Blog. Head over there on April 15th for a list of other blogs participating in the event.
1963 was quite a year. It was the year John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream..." speech. Everybody’s favorite prison, Alcatraz, closed down. In America, the Beatles had their first number one single, "I Wanna Hold your Hand." A gallon of gas cost 29 cents, a loaf of bread 22. The average yearly income was $5,807. (1) In the U.K., a little show called Doctor Who premiered on the BBC.
It was a turbulent, violent time for America, and the world. But it was a great time for the movies.
Everyone touts 1939 as the gold standard of great movie years, and it is indeed an incredible year. But 1963 was none too shabby either. Take a gander at these titles:
There are a lot of great movies on that list, and most of the rest are at least a good time. But for my money, five additional movies released that year really stand out in my personal pantheon as grand entertainments.
They may not be the best, or the most critically well-regarded, but they are all very special to me. I’ll talk a little about why, starting from number 5 and working my way up to numero uno.
A lot of people have a set image of Westerns: horses, cowboys and Indians, gunfights, simple frontier justice. In actual fact, the western is a truly deep and wide-ranging genre. Any type of story can -- and has -- been told in western trappings, from deceptively simple good vs. evil throw-downs (High Noon), to Shakespearean tragedy (The Man from Laramie), to rollicking comedy (McClintock), to brooding meditations on family dysfunction (Track of the Cat), to elaborate con games (A Big Hand for the Little Lady) and biting satire (Little Big Man). The western can accommodate literally any kind of storytelling trope.
Case in point is The Badlanders. Based on the same source novel as classic crime drama The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Badlanders is basically a western riff on the heist movie, and it succeeds on both levels.
Peter von Hoeck, aka the Dutchman (Alan Ladd), gets released from Yuma prison and heads back to Prescott, Arizona, to extract his own particular brand of revenge on the men who set him up. No hardened criminal, he's a mining engineer and geologist, bilked of his share of a gold claim and set up by the corrupt sheriff. He teams up with fellow inmate John "Mac" McBain (Ernest Borgnine), another man cheated out of his gold-rich land by corrupt businessmen, and local dynamite expert, Vincente, to steal gold from a hidden shaft in Cyril Lounsberry’s mine and sell it back to him for a half share of $100,000. And they only have one day to pull off the heist. Needless to say, not everything goes according to plan...
I've been itching to see Dark of the Sun for a long time. Until its release on Warner Archives DVD-R last year, it's been pretty hard to track down. It has a reputation as a mean little action picture, and it didn't disappoint.
The movie takes place in the former Republic of Congo during the early days of the bloody Simba Rebellion. Rod Taylor stars as a hard-ass mercenary named Curry, hired by the government (backed by a powerful Belgian mining consortium) to lead a hand-picked strike team up 300 miles of Simba-held country and rescue the people stranded in Port Reprieve -- or more importantly for the government, the $50 million in diamonds held in the mining company's safe.
Curry's right-hand man is Ruffo, played by Jim Brown (in perhaps the best performance of his career). Unlike Curry, Ruffo fights for ideology, not money. The Congo is his country, and he wants to help put things right. Despite these differences, the two men are close friends, and we get the sense that they've been through many previous missions together.
Curry reluctantly brings the racist ex-Nazi Henlein (Peter Karsten), current commander of the Congalese military, onto his team, along with 20 of his best soldiers. He also lures an alcoholic doctor (Kenneth More) into his scheme with a case of Scotch.
Curry and his men quickly commandeer an old steam-powered train and head off on their mission. Along the way, they rescue a woman (Yvette Mimieux), the only survivor of a Simba raid on her family's plantation.
Crashing through a U.N. barrier, the rescue team speeds on to Port Reprieve, but not before tempers flare and Curry and Henlein throw down in a vicious chainsaw fight.
Alas, the final showdown between these two will have to wait until later. There are still people and diamonds to rescue, and the clock is ticking. Somehow word of their coming has been broadcast throughout the country, and the race is on to fulfill their mission before a platoon of Simba rebels converge on the little mining town...
Opinionated ramblings about new and old movies (mostly old, as that's the way I like 'em!)
Blogs of Note
Stuart Galbraith IV's World Cinema Paradise
Movie Morlocks (TCM's Classic Movie Blog)
50 Westerns from the 50s
Riding the High Country
Tipping My Fedora
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
Laura's Miscellaneous Musings
Classic TV and Film Cafe
Just a Cineast
She Blogged By Night
Chess, Comics, Crosswords, Books, Music, Cinema
Out of the Past -
A Classic Film Blog
Pretty Sinister Books
They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To
In So Many Words...
Greenbriar Picture Shows
My Love of Old Hollywood
Tales of the Easily Distracted
Another Old Movie Blog
Lasso the Movies
Kevin's Movie Corner
Films From Beyond the Time Barrier
Carole & Co.
Rupert Pupkin Speaks
Vienna's Classic Hollywood
The Lady Eve's Reel Life
ClassicBecky's Brain Food
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