The Kingdom of the Fairies (1903)

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The Kingdom of the Fairies (1903)

The Kingdom of the Fairies (1903). 17 minutes. Directed by Georges Méliès. Starring Georges Méliès and Bleuette Bernon.

Together with A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904), The Kingdom of the Fairies is one of Georges Méliès’s most impressive silent short films. The story is of the variety that Méliès loved, involving an epic journey, fierce magical creatures, and a grand final spectacle with a parade. The plot, which is fairly simple, is enhanced by the beautiful and inventive visuals that Méliès incorporates throughout the film, and the movie as a whole functions as a kind of catalogue of the various special effects that Méliès was fond of using. Its elaborate sets and complex techniques are fascinating, and overall the film is one of Méliès’s best.

The movie begins in a royal palace with a prince and princess, whose betrothal ceremony we witness. An evil male witch materializes in the middle of the court, menaces the … Read the rest

Night Nurse (1931)

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Night Nurse (1931)

Night Nurse (1931). 72 minutes. Directed by William Wellman. Starring Barbara Stanwyck (as Lora Hart), Ben Lyon (as Mortie/Pal), Joan Blondell (as B. Maloney), Clark Gable (as Nick), Blanche Friderici (as Mrs. Maxwell), Charlotte Merriam (as Mrs. Ritchie), Charles Winniger (as Dr. Arthur Bell), Edward J. Nugent (as Eagen), Vera Lewis (as Miss Dillon), and Ralf Harolde (as Dr. Milton A. Ranger).

Night Nurse boasts many attractions: actresses Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell in the bloom of youth, an almost baby-faced Clark Gable in one of his earliest speaking roles, and a screenplay based on Grace Perkins’s crime novel of the same name. But the main reason to see Night Nurse is because it is a prime example of the type of kinky movie made during what we now call the pre-Code Hollywood period (1929 to mid-1934), which spanned from the advent of sound films to the creation of the Production Code Administration, the internal censorship office of Hollywood’s … Read the rest

Tales of Manhattan (1942)

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Tales of Manhattan (1942)

Tales of Manhattan (1942). 118 minutes. Directed by Julien Duvivier. Starring Charles Boyer (as Paul Orman), Rita Hayworth (as Ethel Halloway), Thomas Mitchell (as John Halloway), Eugene Pallette (as Luther), Ginger Rogers (as Diane), Henry Fonda (as George), Cesar Romero (as Harry Wilson), Charles Laughton (as Charles Smith), Victor Francen (as Arturo Bellini), Elsa Lanchester (as Elsa Smith), Edward G. Robinson (as Avery “Larry” Browne), George Sanders (as Williams), Harry Davenport (as Professor Lyons), Paul Robeson (as Luke), Ethel Waters (as Esther), and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson (as Rev. Lazarus).

Tales of Manhattan is a compilation of five stories that follow the transference of a black tailcoat from one person to another in New York City. Over the course of the film, the tailcoat is bought new, sold used with a bullet hole in it to a man on his wedding day, torn apart through the exertions of a conductor who is too large for it, repaired for a charity case, … Read the rest

Reefer Madness (1936)

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Reefer Madness (1936)

Reefer Madness (1936). 68 minutes. Directed by Louis J. Gasnier. Starring Dave O’Brien (as Ralph Wiley), Dorothy Short (as Mary Lane), Kenneth Craig (as Bill Harper), Carleton Young (as Jack Perry), Lillian Miles (as Blanche), Thelma White (as Mae Coleman), Warren McCollum (as Jimmy Lane), Ed LeSaint (as judge), Mary McLaren (as Mrs. Lane), and Josef Forte (as Dr. Alfred Carroll).

Reefer Madness has been called one of the best worst movies ever made, ranking alongside such legendary failures as Ed Wood’s dreadful Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) in terms of its ability to provide campy thrills. The 1936 propaganda film’s crazed vision of marijuana abuse, with wild, wide-eyed users who hallucinate, kill, commit suicide, run over pedestrians, attempt rape, and have illicit sex is clearly meant to be a lesson to us all, but it is so over the top as not to be believed. Filmmaker Louis J. Gasnier made Reefer Madness with funding from a religious organization … Read the rest

Little Caesar (1931)

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Little Caesar (1931)

Little Caesar (1931). 79 minutes. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Starring Edward G. Robinson (as Caesar Enrico Bandello/“Little Caesar”), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (as Joe Massara), Glenda Farrell (as Olga Stassoff), William Collier, Jr. (as Tony Passa), Sidney Blackmer (as Big Boy), Ralph Ince (as Diamond Pete Montana), Thomas E. Jackson (as Sergeant Flaherty), Stanley Fields (as Sam Vettori), Maurice Black (as Little Arnie Lorch), and George E. Stone (as Otero).

Little Caesar is a gangster movie from the early days of sound—so early, in fact, that it still includes title cards to announce major transitions in a few scenes. It was made before the Production Code was in place, which means that it is more risqué and more violent than movies produced only a few years later when the Code was enforced. The film made Edward G. Robinson a star, and its influence is wide-ranging. The climactic scene in The Godfather (1972) where Michael Corleone’s men gun down an enemy on … Read the rest

Red River (1948)

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Red River (1948)

Red River (1948). 127 minutes. Directed by Howard Hawks. Starring John Wayne (as Thomas Dunson), Montgomery Clift (as Matthew Garth), Walter Brennan (as Groot Nadine), Joanne Dru (as Tess Millay), Coleen Gray (as Fen), Harry Carey, Sr. (as Mr. Melville), John Ireland (as Cherry Valance), Harry Carey, Jr. (as Dan Latimer), Ivan Parry (as Bunk Kenneally), and Chief Yowlachie (as Two Jaw Quo). Music by Dmitri Tiomkin.

Red River ranks among the greatest celebrations of the open-air American West. During its over two-hour running time, only two scenes take place indoors, and both seem contrived. The fact that they feel out of place thus only reinforces our sense that this movie belongs outdoors underneath a wide, expansive sky. Red River seeks to impart its spirit of hugeness not only in the mass movement of its central cattle drive but also with the mass enthusiasm of its men. Take a look at the scene where John Wayne as Thomas Dunson tells … Read the rest

To Be or Not to Be (1942)

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"To Be or Not To Be" (1942)

To Be or Not to Be (1942). 99 minutes. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Starring Carole Lombard (as Maria Tura), Jack Benny (as Joseph Tura), Robert Stack (as Lt. Stanislav Sobinski), Felix Bressart (as Greenberg), Lionel Atwill (as Rawich), Stanley Ridges (as Professor Alexander Siletsky), Sig Ruman (as Col. Erhardt), Tom Dugan (as Bronski), Charles Halton (as Dubosh), and Henry Victor (as Capt. Schultz).

In To Be or Not to Be, Jack Benny plays Joseph Tura, a Polish actor in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who thinks highly of himself even though few others do. At one point, disguised as a Gestapo agent to further the Polish cause, he asks the German Col. Erhardt if he has heard of this actor Joseph Tura, apparently fishing for compliments even while conducting dangerous espionage. Col. Erhardt, to Tura’s surprise, has heard of the actor. “Oh yes,”the Nazi says, “I saw him in Hamlet once. What he did to Shakespeare we are doing now to Poland.”… Read the rest

The Gold Rush (1925)

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The Gold Rush (1925)

The Gold Rush (1925). 95 minutes. Directed by Charlie Chaplin. Starring Charlie Chaplin (as the Little Tramp/Lone Prospector), Georgia Hale (as Georgia), Mack Swain (as Big Jim McKay), Tom Murray (as Black Larsen), Malcolm Waite (as Jack Cameron), and Henry Bergman (as Hank Curtis).

The Gold Rush is the silent film Charlie Chaplin hoped he would be remembered for. Set in the Yukon during the late nineteenth century, the movie features well-known Chaplin comedy routines such as the protagonist boiling and eating his own shoe, a tabletop dance with two bread rolls on the ends of forks, and a cabin that slides back and forth over the edge of a mountain cliff. But one of the movie’s most impressive accomplishments is the way that it develops Chaplin’s Little Tramp into a deeply moving, remarkably touching character, something that The Gold Rush was criticized for during its own time but that today makes it seem soulful.

The plot revolves around three … Read the rest

Remember the Night (1940)

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Remember the Night (1940)

Remember the Night (1940). 91 minutes. Directed by Mitchell Leisen. Starring Barbara Stanwyck (as Lee Leander), Fred MacMurray (as John Sargent), Beulah Bondi (as Mrs. Sargent), Elizabeth Patterson (as Aunt Emma), Sterling Holloway ( as Willie Simms), Paul Guilfoyle (as district attorney), Charles Waldron (as New York judge), Fred Toones (as Rufus), Tom Kennedy (as Fat Mike), Georgia Cane (as Lee’s mother). Screenplay by Preston Sturges.

Remember the Night is a Preston Sturges comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck as a thief and Fred MacMurray as a New York prosecutor who spend Christmas together in Wabash, Indiana. Although not as well known as other Sturges films such as The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, and The Palm Beach Story, Remember the Night is nevertheless a surprisingly enjoyable holiday film weirdly mixed together with elements of a trial drama. In addition, and probably the reason that I recommend it the most, the movie also functions as a love story to the … Read the rest

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

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The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926).  65 minutes. Written and directed by Lotte Reiniger. Cinematography by Carl Koch. Based on The Arabian Nights.

Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed is the earliest surviving feature-length animated film. Based on The Arabian Nights and brought to life with silhouettes, its story is both refined and complex. Prince Achmed’s noble characters travel around the world, undertake fantastic quests, and perform heroic deeds in plotlines that interconnect and move fluidly across geography and time. Its art direction is also sublime. Although Reiniger’s use of silhouettes was not to become the norm in mainstream European and American animated films, her exquisite work hints at the possibilities inherent in animation before cel art became prominent. The movie is a shining example of the beauty, sophistication, and inventiveness typical of the late silent period.

When the story begins, a nameless African magician visits the court of the Caliph and presents him with a magic horse … Read the rest