Glen Ford and Rita Hayworth in Gilda
The recent elevation, by some snooty British cineasts, of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo to the "best movie of all time"--oh come on--has caused me to do some thinking about a number of other overrated films. So, since the men are pressure-washing my house today and making a lot of noise and mess and water is leaking under my doors and I'm running around with towels plugging the leaks and I can't seem to get any other work done--I thought I might run through some of the films that have gone cult on us for no good reason. See if you agree:
1) Gilda (1946) Staring Rita Hayworth and Glen Ford, directed by Charles Vidor. At the heart of Gilda is the story of an abusive relationship. The woman is willing to degrade herself as part of her ongoing war with a former lover, and when Glen Ford gets the chance her meets her degradation with incredible cruelty. Not a love story I find worth celebrating. Gilda's famous "Put the Blame on Mame" dance is sexy, but it is about a woman so sick she is willing to strip in front of strangers to show she cares about nothing. One plot point: as Hayworth sings, she tosses her gloves and then her diamond necklace to the crowd as an indication that the rest of her clothing will come off next. Many women, under the influence, might take off their clothes. Very few would throw away their diamonds. (Excuse me? Could you return those to my dressing room after the program?)
Born Yesterday has an underlying sadness to it about a woman who thinks its okay to take a beating every now and then.
2) Born Yesterday (1950) Judy Holliday, William Holden, and Broderick Crawford, directed by George Cukor. I suspect when this was a play the real story was about corruption in government. In the film it becomes a love triangle with a man corrupting government as one of the characters. Once again, this is a film about a woman in an abusive relationship. It has its funny moments and its charming moments and William Holden is attractive in it as is Judy Holliday. But when Broderick Crawford slugs Holliday, it ceases to be a comedy. That scene takes the sparkle of the entire story.
3. The Searchers (1956) John Wayne, Natalie Wood, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, directed by John Ford. I really do not understand why anyone likes this film. Yes, John Wayne is good in everything. But nothing happens in this entire movie until the last ten minutes. That leaves one hour and thirty-nine minutes in which people are doing nothing except riding around and talking. John Wayne plays an Indian-hating racist (our hero?) and Jeffrey Hunter plays Wayne's 1/8th Indian nephew (and he looks as much like an Indian as Elizabeth Warren). I don't see how any film featuring such second tier actors as Jeffrey Hunter, Natalie Wood, and Vera Miles can be considered so iconic. The only thing good I can say about this movie is that the scenery is excellent in color.
4. Vertigo (1958) Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. This is another movie in which people wander around a lot with beautiful scenery behind them and not much believable in the plot to prop them up on their journey. I've written about it earlier, so see my previous blog for the total rant. I know a guy who says he likes the cool De Soto Jimmy Stewart drives around San Francisco in the movie--so I'll give the movie points for that. But the car Steve McQueen drives around San Francisco in in Bullit is much cooler if that's all you're looking for. Jimmy Stewart as a grandfatherly-looking man who is still dating and allowing love to drive him insane is too far fetched for me, as is anyone losing his mind over Kim Novak.
5. The Godfather (1972) Everybody who ever became famous in the 1970s plus Marlon Brando, directed by FF Coppola. I think it is the graphic violence in this film that is the underlying reason men, especially, think this is a great film. In the 1970s, with films set free from the old movie "code," graphic violence was considered very cool. I don't think it is cool to celebrate killing people, and anyway, if you want good psycho-crime drama the Godfather doesn't compare with White Heat (1949) starring James Cagney. Is it just me or--with the passage of time--do Marlon Brando's Don Corleone mannerisms seem cornier and cornier? All I can think of when I see the film today is the Kleenex Brando stuffed in his cheeks. I dislike the other Godfather movies even more since they appear to have been shot at night without proper lighting.
6. Splendor in the Grass (1961) Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood directed by Elia Kazan. I hate to report this, but Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood are two really good-looking movie stars who are not terrific actors. And the theme of this movie--that if you don't have sex when need to have it as a teenager with your first love, you will either go crazy, as Natalie Wood does, or end up dropping out of college and become a farmer wearing ill-fitting denim overalls, as Warren Beatty does--puts this story up there with the silliest film plots of all time. Stories based on sex (as in this case) or violence (as in cases mentioned above) were once prohibited by the movie "code." Just because the "code" died, doesn't make this tale of sex and woe worth telling.
7. Bus Stop How to Marry a Millionaire or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (both in 1953) or even in Some Like it Hot (1959 with Billy Wilder directing) and the work just doesn't rate. Not to mention her southern accent is atrocious. Don Murray overacts badly in this too. You still can't take your eyes off Marilyn. But it is not her best performance, even if Paula Strasberg was standing in the wings coaching her. Or maybe because of that.
Orson Welles during his Citizen Kane period.
8. Citizen Kane (1941) Orson Welles and the Mercury Players directed by Welles. I used to think this was a great film and it certainly is a groundbreaking one with its odd angles, noir lighting, and controversial telling of the William Randolph Hearst story. But try watching it several times over a year or two, and it starts to feel like one of those required reading World History texts in college. Pretentious. Overwrought. Over-acted. Over dramatic. Over stylized. I'm just over it. And Orson Welles too, whom I have begun to think of as s a big blowhard no-talent director, who, when in the hands of a really good director, was an excellent actor. Which he thought he was way too smart to be.
It could happen to you if you don't eat right and get proper exercise. Orson Welles in Touch of Evil.
9. Touch of Evil (1958) Orson Welles, Janet Leigh, Charlton Heston, Dennis Weaver directed by Welles. Orson Welles seventeen years later, all bloated up and gross looking and chewing all the scenery in the room. It is so self-consciously arty, I've never been able to follow the plot. Dennis Weaver should have gone back to Gunsmoke and Killer Shrews and not passed Go. Charlton Heston should not ever play a Mexican. The opening shot is much credited. Not much else here to see. Another example of cult weirdness.
10. 2001: A Space Odyssey Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, directed by Stanley Kubrick. Unless you are taking hallucinogenics, this film makes no sense at all. The space ship scenes are interesting and so is Hal the computer. But sit through this whole boring incomprehensible thing? Like nails on a chalkboard. If you have to use drugs, why not take them and watch a really good movie?
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