favorite films · Month in Movies · TCM

Month in Movies: July

I spent July with TCM’s star of the month, Olivia de Havilland. She’s 100! And seeing her in the different stages of her career was so rewarding. I can’t wait to write an in depth post on my favorite films. Surprisingly, I watched only a handful of musicals in July. Unfortunately, none of them were very good. There was lots of Howard Keel though. I love him! (Apparently I have to fight Keisha for his hand in marriage now…) On July 4th, I celebrated America’s birthday with a mini marathon of Lena Horne movies. Those were the ones in which all she did was perform a specialty number, and in quite a few cases, her brief appearances are the only reasons to watch. The performances are available on youtube, but I’m a completist so I watched the full movies instead. Here are my actual favorites from the month.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
dir: Robert Aldrich

A psychological horror film which pits two of the greatest divas against each other. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are sisters who have long faded from the limelight of movie fame. They live in a grand, decaying mansion. Davis is Baby Jane Hudson, a former vaudevillian child star who clings to the fantasy of her youth, all while tormenting her wheelchair bound sister, Blanche (Crawford). The film is deeply unsettling and deeply entertaining. 

Mustang (2015)
dir: Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Anytime a new director makes a strong first impression, it’s a Big Deal, and I think it’s doubly true in a woman’s case. Mustang follows five close knit sisters in Turkey who are taken out of school and put on lockdown by their extremely conservative family. They’ve been accused of being sexually deviant. The accusation is brought on by hysteria and dirty minded adults, but they’re punished for it. Everything about Mustang was just so real. My experiences were so different, growing up as a black, Catholic American, but it just felt like the most truthful portrait of girlhood. The anxieties, tragedies, and joys are magnified under watchful and misguided eyes. These fierce, bright girls rebel in big and little ways. It’s just magnificent. 

Traffic (2000)
dir: Steven Soderbergh

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 10.08.04 PM

This is a film I’ve always heard about and it did not disappoint. Benicio del Toro was the main draw for me. He won an Oscar for his efforts. I was also excited to see Miguel Ferrer. When Ferrer first appeared onscreen, I was struck by how much he resembled Jose Ferrer. Then after googling and finding out that he was Jose’s son, I was pretty stoked. I think Miguel Ferrer is extradorinary, and he clearly takes after his father. I was engrossed throughout the film. The war on drugs is certainly a harrowing subject to tackle on film, while its real life effects have been catastrophic. I loved how the different narratives were intertwined and connected.

Brief Encounter (1945)
dir: David Lean

As someone who spends much of my life on trains and in train stations, I this film has birthed some unrealistic expectations. But it’s beautiful and heartrending. Two strangers (Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard) meet by chance and although they are both happily married, they fall in love. “I didn’t think such violent things happened to ordinary people.” That’s a line that will not be leaving me anytime soon. Laura (Johnson) addresses her husband Fred in an anguished inner monologue which adds a humane touch to this love story.

The Petrified Forest (1936)
dir: Archie Mayo

I expected this film to be a routine Warner Brothers gangster flick, but my expectations were grabbed by the scruff of the neck and tossed out the door. It’s actually a stunningly intimate depiction of various lives and the regrets, frustrations, and hopes contained within them as a gangster holds customers hostage in an Arizona diner. I’ve known about this film for years and was always eager to see it, but all I knew about it was that it launched the Career of Humphrey Bogart, and that he was very good friends with co-star Leslie Howard. Based on the Robert Sherwood play, Bogart reprised his role of gangster Duke Mantee from the stage, but Warners was reluctant to cast him. Howard, who had also appeared in the stage version, threatened to leave the film if Bogart wasn’t cast. Bogie was so grateful that he named his daughter Leslie in honor of Howard. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else playing Mantee, especially the studio’s first choice, Edward G. Robinson. Duke Mantee is coarse, menacing, and sarcastic, but Bogart’s performance is restrained, and Mantee’s violent grip is almost delicate. 
And I haven’t even mentioned what else I love about the film. It still retains the stage bound quality (I’m never sure if “stagey” is meant to be a criticism of certain films), but this is an advantage. These characters are trapped in boring, lonely existences. It’s only fitting to see them trapped in a situation in which they have little control and means of escape. Howard plays Alan Squier, an intellectual drifter who longs for death. His language is flowery, his outlook bleak, but he extols the beauty and virtues of the universe, even as the weight of it has crushed him. He captures the heart of Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis), a waitress in the diner who longs to escape the diner and the desert. She paints, reads poetry, and wants to live in Paris, where she can cultivate her artistic abilities further. Adorable isn’t a word commonly used to describe Bette Davis, but she was so young and wears a ribbon in her hair, so it’s appropriate in this case. She radiates so much genuine vulnerability and yearning. I found this film to be strangely comforting even though its permeated by death. There’s a wistful quality about it.

2 thoughts on “Month in Movies: July

  1. I agree with you re: the “stagey” feel of The Petrified Forest and how it adds to the film’s atmosphere. It’s one of my fave films.

    Thanks for the recommendation re: Mustang. Looks quite thought provoking.


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