Ralph Barton and Charlie Chaplin in the Jazz Age

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Charlie Chaplin—an icon of cinema—flirted with the fine arts. He sketched on occasion, and he could converse about art and music in social situations, but his strongest connection to the world of art was his friendship with illustrator Ralph Barton. During the 1920s, Barton was a highly successful caricaturist and cartoonist, whose work was elevated by an understanding of design, line and composition. He served as an advisory editor for The New Yorker from its very beginning in 1924, which reflected the type of social circle Barton traveled in. Barton seemed to know everyone who gave the Jazz Age its flavor, from Mayor Jimmie Walker to actor Paul Robeson.

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Who Has The Last Laugh (1924)?

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To view The Last Laugh click here.

Nowadays when I talk with my friends about F.W. Murnau (1888 – 1931) they are usually familiar with Nosferatu (1922) or Sunrise (1927). Between those two classics is another masterpiece released in 1924 that is usually overlooked, and one that Georges Sadoul, in his Dictionary of Film Makers claims “was hailed in the USA at the time as the best film in the world.” The German title puts the emphasis on the protagonist (Der Letzte Mann aka: The Last Man), whereas the English title emphasizes a rather shocking ending that highlights a forced Hollywood narrative, but does so with satirical aplomb that is hard to match to this day. You’ll see it all in: The Last Laugh, the story of a hotel doorman (played by Emil Jannings) who is demoted to a lavatory attendant. [...MORE]

A Mother’s Sacrifice in Stella Dallas (’37)

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To view Stella Dallas click here.

Children rarely understand the sacrifices their parents make for them. Nor should they. The difficult decisions and problems that parents often have to deal with aren’t ones that should be the concerns of a child. In my own life, my parents made sacrifices that I didn’t fully realize or understand until I became an adult. Both my mom and dad worked long hours to put me through school, pay for my extracurricular activities and provide me with opportunities that would’ve otherwise been unavailable without their support. Like most kids, I took all of this for granted until I was old enough to realize the extent of what they did for me. Now, that’s not to say that my parents didn’t teach me the value of money or time, but they tried to shield me from many of the struggles and decisions that adults are faced with. And now that I’m a parent, I finally appreciate how difficult it is to raise children, especially when you want to give your child everything they need and want, ensuring they have a fair chance at every opportunity in life. Parents not only want the best for their children, they also want to provide things a little better than they had.

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Dinner with The Exterminating Angel (1962)

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To view The Exterminating Angel click here.

What does it all mean? Does it matter? There’s a dinner party but before the guests have even arrived, the servants start taking the night off. First it’s just one, then two more, then another two, until finally only the head butler is left. But we know something strange is taking place even before they all go. When two of the women working in the kitchen start to head out of the house, they stop because they see the guests coming in and so they go back and hide. Simple enough. But when they emerge from hiding they see the exact same guests entering again, just as they did before and, again, the women have to hide. Are we seeing an alternate reality the second time around or just history repeating itself? The elite just keep showing up and the servants keep leaving. Then, curiously, they all choose to stay instead of going home. The next day, they realize it’s no longer a choice. The music room off the dining room is where they are and leaving is no longer an option. The movie is Luis Buñuel’s 1962 classic The Exterminating Angel and what it means could be meaningless.

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Three’s a Crowd: Daisy Kenyon (1947)

Daisy Kenyon (1947) Directed by Otto Preminger Shown: Joan Crawford

To view Daisy Kenyon click here.

Daisy Kenyon (1947) is a rarity. It’s a romantic Hollywood movie made for adults that refuses to sentimentalize its subject and treats all its characters respectfully despite their failings and their flaws. Joan Crawford stars as Daisy, an ambitious commercial artist who becomes involved in a complicated love triangle with two very different men. Her longtime paramour is a cocksure married lawyer (Dana Andrews) who has a moral compass that seems to ebb and flow with the changing tides. Her new lover (Henry Fonda) is a shell-shocked war veteran, bereaved widow and onetime naval architect trying to find his footing in postwar New York. Daisy must choose which man she wants to spend the rest of her life with but the decision is not an easy one and director Otto Preminger ratchets up the tension by shooting this somber melodrama as if it were a film noir. In Daisy Kenyon love is a mystery that the resilient heroine must solve but a clear-cut solution remains frustratingly out of reach.

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The Slipper and the Rose (1976): A Different Kind of Cinderella Story

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To view The Slipper and the Rose click here.

For some movies, finding a receptive audience is all a matter of timing, Upon its initial release, The Slipper and the Rose (1976), a sterling reinterpretation of the Cinderella story, missed its window of opportunity because it came out after a string of box office disasters had nearly buried the musical forever. And make no mistake; this is a musical through and through courtesy of intricate, tongue-twisting and enchanting songs written by the unbeatable team of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman. Distanced from its musical cohorts, let’s reexamine the merits of this film and give it a fair shake. [...MORE]

Wrapped Around Her Finger: Elena and Her Men (1956)

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To view Elena and Her Men click here.

In its time Elena and Her Men (1956) was something of a disaster for Jean Renoir, a succession of problems (contested rights, fevers, bad accents) for which he struggled to find solutions. It was a box office and critical dud, and ended any hope of Renoir returning to Hollywood. To read its production history in Pascal Merigeau’s Jean Renoir: A Biography is akin to attending a wake. And yet the film itself is an effervescent thing, an improbable farce about a coup d’etat that positively shimmers with invention. For years Renoir had tried to find a project for Ingrid Bergman, and attracted her with a chance to do light comedy, not something she’d had many opportunities to perform. But due to the stresses of filming both French and English versions of the film (in the U.S. it was titled Paris Does Strange Things), Renoir was miserable during its production and considered its box office failure the final word, dismissing it in interviews. But I would tend to agree with Jean-Luc Godard, one of the film’s only contemporaneous defenders (along with André Bazin), who wrote that Elena and Her Men is the “French film par excellence.”

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A Forgotten Film to Remember: Obsession (1949)

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To view Obsession click here.

I know what you are thinking. Obsession (1976), the Hitchcock-inspired horror film by Brian DePalma about reincarnation, may not be his most respected work, but it is hardly forgotten. And, then there is Luchino Visconti’s Italian version of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Ossessione (1943), which is often listed in film history books, so it has not been forgotten. But, have you heard of the 1949 British film called Obsession? Or, perhaps by its alternate title, The Hidden Room? Yeah, me neither.

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Guess Who Killed The Woman in Question (1950)

THE WOMAN IN QUESTION, from left: Jean Kent, Dirk Bogarde, 1950

To view The Woman in Question click here.

My mother loved mysteries. Loved them. It was her favorite genre (science fiction and adventure were a close second and third) and whenever I discover a new one, it makes me think of her. One of the pleasures of watching a good mystery is trying to figure out who did it – I’m sorry, I meant whodunit – before the detective, amateur or pro, reveals everything at the end. In many cases, there simply isn’t enough information because the writer is holding out so that the reader/viewer can’t figure out the ending. I’m sure there are many mystery fans that like that but I prefer being able to figure it out, if I can, and when I get it right, there’s a sense of satisfaction, not disappointment. I discovered a new mystery recently (new to me I mean, it was made in 1950), The Woman in Question (aka, Five Angles on Murder), directed by Anthony Asquith, and starring Jean Kent as the titular character, Agnes/Astra, a palm reader at the amusement park and, unfortunately for her, a murder victim. We get to know her and the situation surrounding her murder from five people who knew the victim. And, yes, I figured out whodunit. And, no, that didn’t ruin the movie for me.

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A Lonely Climb to Happiness in The Apartment (1960)

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To view The Apartment click here.

Sometimes the saddest stories are the most beautiful. Life is never easy or clear cut, and we all know that there’s often sorrow found on the road to happiness. In The Apartment (1960), director Billy Wilder takes two decent, lonely, broken people looking for real love, and cultivates their developing romance out of an impossibly cynical, ruthless and despicably sexist world of corporate politics. C.C. Baxter, played by Jack Lemmon in one of his finest performances, is eager to please his bosses, and for him, it’s easy because he loves his job. He believes in what he does at Consolidated Life. He not only understands the complicated world of actuarial statistics, he lives for them. Numbers and figures and random factoids are fascinating to him. But Baxter also dreams of that corner wood paneled office with a private key to the executive washroom, where he can serve as an advisor and assistant to the head of the company, and delegate responsibilities to the next set of ambitious young employees. Although Baxter certainly has what it takes to be in upper management, there are hundreds just like him—on staggered schedules for efficiency, robotically processing insurance data. In an endless sea of identical desks with the repetitive, almost-rhythmic sounds of their adding machines, all of the employees working on the nineteenth floor dream of the day they can pick up their rolodex and answer the call to serve in the promised land that is the twenty-seventh floor.

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