Tag Archives: Classics

The Hospital

George C. Scott stars in this black comedy as Herbert Bock, a suicidal doctor who struggles to find meaning in his life while a murderer stalks the halls of his hospital. Herbert’s life is on a downward spiral, but just as he contemplates killing himself, patients at the hospital begin dying — apparently from erroneous treatments they’re being mysteriously ministered. Diana Rigg co-stars in this Academy Award winner for Best Screenplay.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Arthur Hiller directs a finely tuned George C. Scott in The Hospital. Released in 1971, “The Hospital” is a black comedy in every sense of the word. Many a film and TV show has had a hospital as it’s setting, and though Hiller makes the hospital a character on it’s own, it’s the human element that is prevalent in this movie. Black comedies can only work if the subject matter is indeed something that we all take very seriously. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky flexes his muscles here with an Oscar winning screenplay about a suicidal doctor who, during a midlife crisis, loses control of his hospital and his sanity.

Scott turns in an Oscar-nominated performance as Dr. Herbert Bock, who is the chief of medicine at a Manhattan hospital where there are some strange goings on. Dr Bock is indeed a troubled man. His children shun him and his wife leaves him as things at the hospital fall into despair. He even contemplates suicide at one point as he deals with a self image and impotence problem. So with all these things going wrong for him, there is the small matter of the murders of two physicians and a nurse. As the film unfolds he falls for the daughter of an interesting patient of his played by the energetic Diana Rigg, who is spot on playing against the gruff and surly Scott. They in turn have to get to the bottom of the murders as Dr Bock also deals with protests from displaced drug addicts and hospital administrators.

The film is full of quick wit and humor but it also delves deeply into helplessness and disparities. “The Hospital” get a bit bogged down with too much exposition. The direction often times starts to meander, leaving the viewer wanting some type of resolution since we are in this for the long haul. In it’s defense, the film is biting and critical of the entire health care system and our place in it. The great cinematographer Victor J. Kemper shoots the movie with gritty realism and texture. But this film belongs to Scott and Chayevsky. So admit yourself into “The Hospital” for two hours and enjoy.

His Girl Friday

Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is about to get hitched to dull insurance agent Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) — that’s if her ex-husband, ruthless newspaper publisher Walter Burns (Cary Grant), doesn’t succeed in winning her back in this battle-of-the-sexes screwball comedy. Meanwhile, reporters salivating for the scoop on a local voting conspiracy is just a minor distraction as Burns pulls out all the stops for the woman he loves.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Acclaimed director Howard Hawks was behind the camera on “His Girl Friday” and it was released in the golden year of 1940. “His Girl Friday,” which stars Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy, is hands down the best romantic comedy ever made. Hawks’ film is the template to which all other in the genre are made. It is, at its core, a fast, frivolous screwball escapade. Russell and Grant are an estranged, divorced couple who happen to be newspaper people. Russell being the crack reporter to Grant’s editor in chief. Grant will go to any length to win Russell back as she readies for an impending re-marriage to a lethargic and dull insurance agent played with incredible accuracy by Ralph Bellamy. So how good is this “winning the girl back” comedy? It is insanely funny and very charming.

The chemistry between Grant and Russell is a marvel to behold. Comedies like this are rare because they were completely in tune. In classic Hawks’ fashion, the comedic delivery and timing is outrageously brilliant. They talk fast, furious, and loud. Dialog overlaps and multiple characters are in frame constantly poking and jabbing verbal bullets at each other. The film even goes as far as to make a statement about sexism in the workplace, capital punishment and love. But it is never all too serious or solemn. Even a wrongly convicted man falls prey to the gag-filled machinations between Grant and Russell. Characters are hilariously thrust into outrageous situations while the love triangle between Russell, Grant and Bellamy grows increasingly complicated.

Special mention has to go to Bellamy. He is finely tuned in this role as the dour, serious and predictable third wheel. Even his poor mother is thrust into the fray and his performance contrasts the frenetic, heavily-fueled slapstick provided by Russell and Grant. “His Girl Friday” is complex, funny and full of insanely spontaneous gag pieces. I must admit, though, that back in the 1940’s comedic actors were bold, challenged and never refined. All the adlibbing in this film is a testimony to that. Watch it soon and you will be impressed by how original and funny this gem is.

Dial M For Murder

Director Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece of double-cross and intrigue stars Ray Milland as former tennis champ Tony Wendice, who concocts a plan to kill his rich but unfaithful wife (Grace Kelly), who’s embroiled in a liaison with a writer (Robert Cummings). When Tony’s plans go awry, he improvises a second act of deceit, but the entire bloody affair turns out to be far messier than he expected. John Williams plays a sly Scotland Yard inspector.

Rating: 9 out of 10

During my all too brief stint at NYU film school, our professor had us choose from four directors to do an essay on. Kurosawa, Ford, Kubrick and Hitchcock. I choose Hitchcock and I got a B+. Not too shabby for a dumb kid from the Bronx. I will be cliche for a moment and say that they don’t make films like this anymore.

Dial M was released in 1954 and it was, obviously, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It stars the classy and refined Ray Milland, the beautiful Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings as an American crime fiction author. The setting is England and we are witness to Milland and Kelly as a married couple. But something is askew here. Kelly is cheating on her hubby with Cummings. Milland knows what is going on and with an elaborate scheme in mind plans her demise. He first enlists an old college friend of his and concocts a way to blackmail him into doing the deed. While doing all of this, Milland is smooth, aloof and a bit scary. Kelly does an admirable job at playing the mousy and deceiving wife who has a bit of moral integrity as she does feel guilty about her affair.

Without giving away this brilliant plot it is safe to say that Milland’s crazy scheme to off his wife goes completely and utterly wrong. He underestimates his wife and in turn is thrust into a complex web of deception and close calls. This is what Hitch does best. The suspense here is killer as we watch Milland slowly and deliberately try to spin the blame away from him. Milland is amazing to watch. At some point we almost want him to get away with it but Hitch establishes that Milland is smarmy, snakey and charming with absolutely no redeeming qualities to speak off. Kelly and Cummings come to a realization that something is amiss and try to put all the pieces together. Milland, though, for the most part stays cool and collected until the very end when everything unravels accordingly.

Most of the on screen action takes place in the large, nicely decorated, living room where Kelly and Milland live. Here in this set up, Hitchcock shines and his camera work is involving and meticulous. As a Scotland Yard inspector comes on board, everyone stays cold and aloof while everything plays out. Only Cummings expresses that overly anxious American fervor as he tries to get to the bottom of the mystery. As pointed out by my pal, Shawn, we audience members make the same mistakes as the perp Milland does. Brilliant observation if I must say. This film is punctual in it’s outcome and very, very smart. Even if you are not a huge fan of Hitchcock, you may still want to see this elaborate thriller and see just how they don’t make them like this anymore.

The Red Shoes

Fledgling ballerina Victoria (Moira Shearer) falls in love with brilliant composer Julian (Marius Goring) while they collaborate on a ballet that makes her a star. But overbearing company owner Boris (Anton Walbrook), jealous of their love, fires Julian and forbids Victoria from performing. Julian and Victoria wed, and his career takes off, but she longs for an opportunity to dance. When Boris makes an offer, she faces a heart wrenching choice.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Roger Ebert tweeted that “The Red Shoes” was going to be on Turner Classic Movies and everyone must see it. So, if I must, I must. I DVRed it and every few days would look at the two-and-a-half-hour run time and think … tomorrow. Finally tomorrow came and I realized it wasn’t really two and a half hours, there were bumpers by Robert Osborne that ate up at least a half hour. Plus, as soon as it started I was hooked.

Set mostly on the stage and mostly in London it is perfect. A young composer and a young ballerina, both looking for stardom, work their way up to the top in a famous, driven ballet producer’s company.

When they perform “The Red Shoes” for the first time I was thinking how the special effects, although dated now, must have been amazing in 1948. The red ballet slippers appear on the ballerinas feet instantly, I know! amazing.

Although the dancing is beautiful it’s not really until the two young stars fall in love and the producer tries to put an end to it that the movie gets great. But it does get great. Thanks Roger.

The Bride of Frankenstein

After vowing to step away from his dark experiments, Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is blackmailed into creating another fiend (Elsa Lanchester) — this time, in female form — who will serve as a ghoulish bride for his infamous monster (Boris Karloff). Ernest Thesiger co-stars as Frankenstein’s deranged mentor, Dr. Septimus Pretorius, who forces the doctor’s hand by kidnapping his wife (Valerie Hobson).

Rating: 10 out of 10

I believe I actually saw this film, the 1935 sequel, before the first. As a kid I thought it just another Frankenstein movie. Upon more viewings, the film makes an impression that lasts very long after the film ends. It continues with the Gothic feeling of the original but this film includes so much more. First and foremost is the emotion and believability that the first film somewhat lacked. In this film the Frankenstein creature learns to speak and is able to voice his pain and want for a mate like him to share eternity with. The film continues right after the first ends and Boris Karloff and Colin Clive return. James Whale (who was the subject of the film Gods and Monsters) directed this film with incredible vision. The lighting is dim and shadows pronounced. Whale is a set director and he relishes on playing the camera to those sets to make dramatic impressions.

The Bride of Frankenstein is a touching film with well placed humor, intensity and precise dialog delivery. The portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein, played by Clive, is a bit enigmatic but surreal. He is in turmoil after having created what most of the villagers see as a complete, murderous creature. It takes a blind man who cannot see what the creature looks like to accept him as a friend. This is one of the most heart wrenching moments of the film. Whale does not do sentimentality at all and provides very visceral images of the creature and of his bride to be.

The Bride of Frankenstein at times provokes fear, disgust and heart breaking emotion. It has the feel of a poetic theater play with great sets and make up. Karloff acts through it and raises the bar for actors who portray beasts. Whale’s direction of the camera and his actors are a revelation.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)

In this silent 1920s masterpiece, an insane asylum inmate explains to his psychiatrist how he came to the institution, telling the shrink the story of the evil hypnotist Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his unwitting pawn, the sleepwalker Cesare (Conrad Veidt). This stark expressionist film from German director Robert Wiene astonishes with the power of its sets and visuals, and the creepy plot easily raises hackles on the back of one’s neck.

Rating: 10 out of 10

So you want a classic? Well, I have one for you. An oldie but very goody indeed. It is the 1919 German psychological horror film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” a very influential silent film full of dynamic terror and suspense. I say influential because upon watching it again I was reminded of how many current directors were and are still following the dramatic and visual uniqueness of this film. Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, Martin Scorcese and even John Carpenter (In The Mouth of Madness, anyone?) to name a few. They owe a great deal to this movie.

It involves a mental facility patient named Francis who tells his Doctor about his chilling run in with a Carnival sideshow menace, Dr Caligari, and his attraction, the Somnabulist, Cesare. What makes this story fascinating is the use of the flashback to tell the story. It is one the earliest uses of this technique and it is very effective. This practice of the flashback reveals layer upon layer of German expressionist drama. Say what you will about this film being identified as everything from propaganda, wartime angst to social commentary, but it is still bold with it’s bluish and sepia toned nightmare. The more we witness the horror of Francis’ tale unfold the more we begin to sympathize with him — but in turn question his sanity. The ending will no doubt be seen as a classic and much used plot device, but this is the 1920’s so it was very fresh then.

Before I conclude I must talk about the visual impact of the film. It is nightmarish, bizarre and disorienting. There are stark angles. There are slanted streets and windows. Characters sit on very high stools and patterns and shadows are deep and trance-inducing. The camera work is of course a bit crude but it is intense and very sublime as we delve deeper and deeper into the madness that Francis reveals to his Doctor. I recall my film professor giving us this film to watch and absorb for homework. Let’s just say that it did not feel like homework. It felt more like a revelation. Highly recommended.

The Andromeda Strain

A satellite crashes in New Mexico, prompting scientists to race against the clock to stop a deadly virus from spreading in this Oscar-nominated sci-fi classic based on Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name. The alien illness that sprang from the probe has already killed most of those living near the crash site, and now it’s up to a team of scientists to stop it. Note: Contains graphic scenes that may be unsuitable for young children.

Rating: 8 out of 10

When I reviewed “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” I lauded director Robert Wise for his phenomenal diversity in tackling the many genres that make up the pantheon of Hollywood films. I applaud Robert Wise once more for taking on what Stanley Kubrick had only done until “The Andromeda Strain.” The cerebral sci-fi film was released in 1971 and is based on the gripping novel of the same name by the late Micheal Crichton.

In fact it seems as if 2001 and Strain are almost polar opposites in design. 2001 is about mankind’s expansion and Strain is about the demise of man from a strong, super-bad virus from outer space. It comes piggy backed via a satellite that crashes and wipes out an entire town, save but only an infant and an old man.

The film follows the book closely and Robert Wise allows no pretention. There is a race on to catch a super germ from outer space and the feds need the scientists to catch it. We get very straight talking scientists and straight talking G-men in this cold and calculating geek-fest. There are many great elements, such as the art direction, which was nominated for an Oscar. Like MGM’s “Forbidden Planet” (soon to be reviewed), it has a complete electronic score by Gil Melle that is very cold and eerie. Composition and color stand out amazingly much like his work on Star Trek The Motion Picture.

Andromeda Strain is a great sci fi medical thriller but it’s possible scenario is what makes it hit home with many fans of the virus outbreak thrillers. Full of suspense and surprise I highly recommend “The Andromeda Strain.”

Harry and Tonto

Ripping a page from John Steinbeck’s novel Travels with Charley, this bittersweet comedy follows an old codger named Harry (Art Carney) as he takes a cross-country trip with his cat, Tonto, as a companion. The film, which earned TV comedy veteran Carney a well-deserved best actor Academy Award, also features Ellen Burstyn, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Larry Hagman, Josh Mostel and Melanie Mayron. Paul Mazursky directs.

Rating: 9 out of 10

I’m really surprised this movie doesn’t have a bigger following. It’s truly timeless and deals with themes like broken family, love lost, aging, and the major changes in life — the ones that get us as lost as we need to,  so that when we find ourselves again, we are refreshed.

This takes Harry, played masterfully in an understated and precise role by Carney, on an absurd journey. In the hands of another actor, this could have been considered obsurb. But Carney’s delivery is so believable that we never question the present. It reminded me of “Forest Gump” in that respect — Tom Hanks was so good in the role, we never cared that he could run across America and back, then back again, win an Olympic gold medal, a Congressional Medal of Honor, and be an all-American football star.

Harry’s journey is much simpler, though it does take some emotional, funny and fasinating turns as he and his cat ,Tonto, journey from New York to Chicago and Los Angeles — he hitches a ride with a high-priced hooker, takes in a homeless girl, and ends up in prison for urinating in public. But the movie’s not about the traveling, it’s about the journey.