Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life (1956)

BIGGER THAN LIFE (1956)

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In 1955, Nicholas Ray made the technicolor family drama Rebel Without a Cause, which focused on the experiences of teenagers in the seemingly perfect confines of postwar suburbia. The film was not only a huge success, but it helped to make its star, James Dean, a household name, as well as leaving a significant mark on American culture. The following year, Ray revisited suburban middle America with Bigger Than Life (1956), a melodrama starring James Mason, Barbara Rush and Walter Matthau. Unlike Rebel, Bigger Than Life had a disastrous run in theaters and was critically panned. But like so many films that are highly regarded today, Bigger Than Life has been reevaluated, and is considered by many to be Ray’s masterpiece.

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Behind Closed Doors: 12 Angry Men (1957)

12 ANGRY MEN (1957)

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Reginald Rose wrote for television, film and the theater, coming into his own in 1954 with a work that would be his masterpiece, 12 Angry Men. On television, it starred Franchot Tone as the angry and bitter juror #3 and Robert Cummings as the thoughtful, patient and argumentative juror #8, two men battling each other for the life of a young man standing trial for murder. If that duo doesn’t set you on fire, it may have more to do with who followed them than the actors themselves. Tone and Cummings were terrific, of course, but once you see the 1957 Sidney Lumet directed film adaptation, you’ll never think of anyone else but Lee J. Cobb and Henry Fonda in those roles again.  And I say that having seen the 1997 television remake with the formidable George C. Scott and Jack Lemmon taking on the roles. They were great, too, but Cobb and Fonda take the prize, as does the film itself.

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Animal Passions: Cat People (1942)

CAT PEOPLE (1942)

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This year marks the 75th anniversary of Cat People (1942) and subscribers can currently catch this spine-chilling classic on the Criterion Channel of FilmStruck through June 30, 2017. Cat People is one of the most influential horror movies made during the 1940s and due to its reputation among film historians, it has been studied and written about extensively with plenty of praise rightfully being heaped on its producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur. With FilmStruck and TCM currently celebrating Pride Month, I thought I’d turn the spotlight on DeWitt Bodeen, the gay American scriptwriter who was responsible for Cat People as well as its sequel, Curse of the Cat People (1944). Bodeen scripted many other classics including The Seventh Victim (1943), The Enchanted Cottage (1945), I Remember Mama (1948) and Billy Budd (1962) but he has often been overshadowed by his esteemed collaborators. To his credit, Bodeen’s work subtly addressed gay oppression at a time when homosexuality was still considered a crime in Hollywood and Cat People is one of the best examples of this.

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Jeffrey (1995): Love in the ’90s Is Paranoid

JEFFREY (1995)

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There’s something special about the wave of LGBT-friendly indies that swept into theaters in the mid-1990s, and it’s not hard to see why. Rapid changes were starting to take place in a community driven to fiery activism by the catastrophic onslaught of AIDS in the previous decade, and the news was becoming far more outspoken about relevant issues in that watershed year of 1994, when the United States started observing LGBT History Month and the military initiated its controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Filmmakers followed suit, with everyone from Hollywood to the most budget-constrained indies offering a wide variety of voices in films like The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), Beautiful Thing (1996), Philadelphia (1993), The Celluloid Closet (1995), Happy Together (1997), Bound (1996), The Incredibly True Adventures of 2 Girls in Love (1996), Broadway Damage (1997), Chasing Amy (1997) and As Good as It Gets (1997). Not all those films have held up to scrutiny over the years, but when seen together and as part of the entire decade’s output, you could make a very strong case for the 1990s as the most vital one in the history of LGBT cinema. [...MORE]

The Beast In Me: Le Bête Humaine (1938)

LA BETE HUMAINE (1938)

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Following the transformative success of Grand Illusion (1937), Jean Renoir suddenly had an overwhelming number of opportunities. There was an offer on the table from Samuel Goldwyn to come to Hollywood, though he delayed his route there, at least temporarily. Instead he would direct the panoramic French Revolution drama La Marseillaise ([1938],which I will write about later in my Renoir series) and our subject today, La Bête Humaine (1938). The latter is a moody death-haunted drama adapted from the Emile Zola novel, returning to the author’s work for the first time since Nana (1926). A grimly fatalistic tale about a train engineer’s inbred compulsion to murder, and his desperate attempts to restrain it, it is graced by an iconic Jean Gabin performance that attempts to go beyond good and evil.

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Being Happy Together (1997)

HAPPY TOGETHER, (aka CHEUN GWONG TSA SIT), Leslie Cheung, Tony LEUNG Chiu Wai, 1997. ©Kino Internati

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One of my favorite directors, Wong Kar-wai, is represented in FilmStruck’s new theme “Gay and Lesbian Cinema.” His film Happy Together (1997), a deceptively simple story about a gay couple in a turbulent relationship, earned him the director’s prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was also nominated for the Palme d’Or.

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Ireland in the Movies

ODD MAN OUT (1947)

The following is a guest post by writer Gareth Higgins:

Many of us have had the experience of seeing a news story covering events of which we have first hand knowledge, and saying, Huh? That doesn’t sound like what I know. It’s even more pronounced in fiction – Italian American organizations protested The Godfather (1972), weekend sailors I know blanched when they saw Robert Redford fail to carry out apparently basic seafaring tasks in All is Lost (2013), and don’t get my Baptist pastor husband started on the portrayal of Southern clergy in the movies.

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Directed by Nicholas Ray: On Dangerous Ground (’51)

ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951)

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Three years after Nicholas Ray made his directorial debut with 1948’s They Live by Night (which I wrote about here), he made On Dangerous Ground (1951), starring Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino. Written by Gerald Butler, On Dangerous Ground tells the story of a hardened cop, Jim Wilson (Ryan), with a bad reputation for roughing up not only suspects, but anyone else he comes in contact with while on the job—including innocent witnesses. One of Jim’s partners has a serious talk with him about the consequences of his actions, and how it will destroy his career and destroy him, but Jim doesn’t listen. It isn’t until a particularly scary encounter between Jim and a witness, that his boss, the police chief (Ed Begley), pulls him from his current duties. Jim is sent to aid a case out in the country—in hopes that once he shakes off the grime of the city, he will cool down and come to his senses.

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The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)

Times_Harvey_Milk_1984_1

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Harvey Milk served only eleven months as the District 5 Supervisor of San Francisco but it can truly be said that his influence will outlive most politicians who have served a lifetime. In those eleven months, Milk got a gay rights ordinance through, successfully blocked the anti-gay teacher Proposition 6 and became a voice for a community that stretched out far beyond his home. In that eleventh month, on November 27, 1978, Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by another former city supervisor, Dan White. Milk’s life was over but his voice and message live on.

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Revisiting Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996)

HAMLET (1996)

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Late last year I had the great pleasure of seeing Derek Jacobi perform MEASURE + DIDO (directed by Jacobi’s partner of 38-years, Richard Clifford), a modern update of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure that includes excerpts from Henry Purcell’s chamber opera Dido and Aeneas. Jacobi was marvelous as Angelo, the lusty, scheming and very funny deputy to the Duke of Vienna. With apologies to the other players, Jacobi owned the stage and effortlessly commanded Shakespeare’s ornate language. I was in awe of his powerful performance and in the process, I gained a new appreciation for Shakespeare’s comedy. But if truth be told, I prefer the Bard’s tragedies to his comedies so with the experience of seeing MEASURE + DIDO still somewhat fresh in my mind, I decided to revisit Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) now streaming on FilmStruck.

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