August was a busy month movie wise. I watched 61 new to me films! 51 of those were part of TCM’s Summer Under the Stars, and I’m honestly surprised that I watched that many. I’ll write a separate post on the actors and films featured for SUTS later on. These are just a handful of the striking and unique films I watched this month.
Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (1946)
dir: Spencer Williams
Kino Lorber recently released a box set of films saluting Pioneers of African American Cinema. TCM aired some of the films with professor Jacqueline Stewart joining host Ben Mankiewicz to discuss the history and influential nature of these hidden and newly restored films. Dirty Gertie was the most arresting of the films that I saw, due in large part to the breathtakingly gorgeous Francine Everett. As the titular Gertie, Everett is alluring and sympathetic. She appeals to the audience even if she’s not an innocent character. Not such a far cry from the femme fatales of iconic and other low budget noirs with predominantly white casts.
Stormy Weather (1943)
dir: Andrew L. Stone
The plot may be wafer thin, but this musical just overflows with zest and life. It stars the unsung Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, essentially playing himself in a thinly veiled biopic. His leading lady is Lena Horne. She’s charming and absolutely cute, and does her best with the sometimes dull material. But Stormy Weather contradicts its title because it’s really a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. It’s also only one of five films in which Lena wasn’t merely decoration, but a prominent character with speaking lines. Also on display are the peerless dancing talents of the Nicholas Brothers and Katherine Dunham’s troupe performing an entrancing routine following Lena’s memorable rendition of the title song. Dooley Wilson, Fats Waller, and Cab Calloway (a new crush) also star.
The Invitation (2015)
dir: Karyn Kusama
Though I’ve fallen behind on the 52 Films by women challenge, Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is one that sharply stands out. I was in the mood for a thriller so I browsed through Netflix and found this, with no prior knowledge – or warning. Will (Logan Marshall-Green) attends a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband, David (Michiel Huisman). While you’d expect such an evening to be a little awkward, Kusama also deftly portrays the themes of grief and loss. And she beautifully mounts the tension that builds up to an alarmingly bloody conclusion. Thrillers are meant to unseat us, but The Invitation actually upsets all previous expectations of the genre.
Extraordinary Tales (2013)
dir: Raul Garcia
Featuring extraordinary animation and artwork! This anthology of Edgar Allen Poe stories is narrated by a handful of greats, most notably horror icons Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi. With rich visuals complementing Poe’s ~dark twisted mind~, it’s divine on every level.
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
dir: Anatole Litvack
It seems like I’ve been trying to hunt this movie down forever. I’ve always been a huge Burt Lancaster fan and this has eluded me for years. Barbara Stanwyck owns the film as a screechy invalid confined to her bed who overhears a murder being plotted over the telephone. She’s all alone in her big mansion, her husband (Burt Lancaster) away, constantly in hysterics because no one will take her seriously or take concrete action to help her. The slow moving camera achieves a claustrophobic effect, so you feel as trapped as she is. In truest noir fashion, there are flashbacks on flashbacks on flashbacks.
Next up: Summer Under the Stars!