August was a solid movie watching month, although I didn’t plan my viewing schedule for TCM’s Summer Under the Stars festival as successfully as last year. I’m disappointed because I watched 55 films in the lineup in 2016, and there were some stars I was eager to check out, like Lon Chaney, Sandra Dee, and Franchot Tone. But I did get to rewatch a lot of my favorites. August was extremely special because I also visited my favorite place on planet Earth.
Yes, I actually went to Pixar! It was the best two days of my life and I have plenty to share. I was just feet away from Lee Unkrich twice and I saw Brad Bird strolling through the atrium and I can’t believe I was there?!?!?! I hope I can go back because it truly is the most magical place in the world. I will go into more detail about it one of these days, so stay tuned! Here’s my first post about Coco, which is released in November.
Now onto the movies!
I Confess (1953) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Somehow I missed this film in last month’s recap. Absolutely stunning and intense. Although the action revolves around a priest, it still isn’t Hitchcock’s most Catholic film. That honor belongs to The Wrong Man (1956). Montgomery Clift plays Father Michael, who hears the confession of a parishioner who committed murder. The sacrament of confession (known as reconciliation now) is hugely important in the church. There is where all your vulnerabilities and sins are laid bare. But you seek absolution and the chance to start anew. And of course, priests are absolutely forbidden from divulging anything they’ve learned. So it’s quite a tantalizing film concept, when a priest hears a murder confession and can’t even go to the authorities with his knowledge. We know the killer’s identity early on, but the film is taut and suspenseful. Father Michael is under suspicion almost immediately and has little to clear his name with. Unsavory details about his relationship with a married woman (a splendid Ann Baxter) emerge and he’s on trial for his life.
When Strangers Marry (1944) dir: William Castle
Orson Welles said this film was better acted and directed than Laura and Double Indemnity. That’s a tall order to fill, but I was absolutely blown away by this film, clocking in at just over an hour. Kim Hunter plays a newlywed bride who begins to suspect that her husband is a killer. She’s young and her husband (Dean Jagger) is much older. They haven’t known each other for long, hence the film’s title. Robert Mitchum plays an old friend who tries to help her as all the damning evidence builds up against her husband. Mitchum was young here, yet that peculiar face of his keeps you on your guard. A baby faced threat.
Between Two Worlds (1944) dir: Edward A. Blatt
Sappy and melodramatic, yet only to be expected when the film is about the afterlife. It’s WWII and a carload of passengers perishes during a raid, yet none of the people know they’re dead. A married couple played by Eleanor Parker and Paul Henreid who committed suicide know the truth, but can’t reveal it to the others. All of them are on a ship that’s bound for either Heaven or Hell. A strong, vivid performance by Eleanor Parker, who was only 22, and the usual brilliance by John Garfield and Sydney Greenstreet. This film is definitely worth a look, especially if you like weepy stories.
Edge of the City (1957) dir: Martin Ritt
You ever watch something so authentic that your bones just ache? That’s Edge of the City, about the friendship between a black man and a white man. They’re both union dock workers. Axel (John Cassavetes) has a checkered past while Tommy (Sidney Poitier) is happily married with two young children. They’re platonic soulmates. Tommy is gregarious and outspoken, a major help to Axel when he first arrives. Their friendship is threatened by a tyrannical supervisor who hates Tommy because he’s a racist. But even as bleak as the film is, it’s genuine and lovely.
The Mad Miss Manton (1938) dir: Leigh Jason
A pure delight from start to finish. Melsa Manton (Barbara Stanwyck) is a socialite who gets all her girlfriends involved in a murder investigation. Henry Fonda plays a reporter who falls hard and fast for her, despite slandering her in the newspaper for her antics. Hattie McDaniel is Hilda, Melsa’s maid. She was always so great at elevating her roles, coming across as more clever than the people employing her. And she’s never disrespected in the film. Stany was a comedienne and should’ve had more opportunities to show off her timing and skill.
Border Incident (1949) dir: Anthony Mann
Brutal and grim even for Anthony Mann. This film tackles illegal immigration on the US-Mexican border, with Ricardo Montalban and George Murphy playing undercover agents. The Mexican workers who cross over illegally aren’t demonized, but portrayed sympathetically as people just searching for a better life and being taken advantage of by greedy white men.
The Reluctant Saint (1962) dir: Edward Dmytryk
It’s rare in my experience to see authentic faith films by big name directors. This one is about Saint Joseph of Cupertino. Maximilian Schell, fresh from his Oscar winning role in Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) is Giuseppe, a hapless Italian peasant. He can’t seem to do anything right, which angers and frustrates his mother. He’s the laughingstock of his village. His uncle, a priest, reluctantly allows him to join the monastery, and after some rough starts, he finds his place and greatest joy by caring for animals in the stable. Eventually he joins the priesthood, and while praying to the Virgin Mary, begins to levitate. Ricardo Montalban costars as a skeptical priest, one who actually accuses Giuseppe of satanic involvement. It’s a great role for Montalban, more antagonistic than I’ve seen him.
Sunday in New York (1963) dir: Peter Tewksbury
This is a film that was probably very forward for its time with its frank discussion of sex but its attitude is mild today. It’s still marvelous, charming, witty, and a real delight. Jane Fonda plays Eileen, a virgin who was dumped by her fiancee for her lack of sexual experience. She visits her brother, Adam (Cliff Robertson), an airline pilot, who lies about his sexual history to assuage her worries. When the truth is revealed, an angry Eileen decides she’ll lose her virginity to a charming stranger, Mike (Rod Taylor). It’s sweet and fun, poking a little at those absurd double standards between men and women and features Jane Fonda at arguably her dreamiest.