Posted by gregferrara on January 30, 2015
The great thing about the movies (and books, music, theater, and literature) is that you don’t have to enjoy the whole work to take something away from it. It certainly helps if you like the whole movie and my favorite cinematic experiences are the movies that speak to me from start to finish. But every so often, there’s a movie I’m not particularly enthused about, maybe one I don’t even really like, but it’s a got a scene that I do like and I watch it over and over. And then, I shut if off (or change the channel or stream something else, whatever the case may be). Tonight on TCM, there’s one such movie on the schedule (what are the odds?) and while I’m not a fan, there’s one scene I’ve watched a hundred times and will probably watch a hundred more. The movie is Sweet Charity and the scene is when that ultimate groovy cat, Sammy Davis, Jr, performs The Rhythm of Life. The rest of the movie I don’t really watch.
I’ve written before about how Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria, starring Giulietta Masina, is one of my favorite films and that in and of itself has effectively soured me on Sweet Charity, it’s musical remake. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot to offer, musical-wise, and Bob Fosse’s choreography is always terrific, but I just can’t get into it, especially the way it reduces the troubles of our lead heroine to a trivial state (in the original, she loses everything and it’s heartbreaking). All that said, however, I just love that dated, groovy, over-the-top number performed by the show-stopping Sammy Davis, Jr. I’ve watched the movie just to get to that number and, since the advent of the internet, have simply called it up online many a times. Other movies follow the same pattern.
Cimarron, for instance. It’s not a Best Picture winner anyone has any real respect for and I’m definitely no great defender of it. I find Richard Dix’s performance a bit riper every time I see it (but he’s great in The Whistler movies, years later) and the story just isn’t that interesting or, perhaps, better said, it could be interesting but is rushed through and filled with uninteresting exchanges. The land rush sequence, however, always holds my interest. It’s not that later movies, with bigger budgets, better special effects, and more advanced camera work, didn’t come up with better action scenes than this one, but there’s something so real about it. Taken out of the context of the movie’s story, it’s fascinating to simply realize that they got that many people together on horses, in wagons, and on foot, to all start rushing, headlong, in the same direction. It’s the scene that probably won it the Oscar and while I wouldn’t give it an award due to just one scene, I will watch that scene again and again.
Speaking of frowned upon Best Picture choices, The Greatest Show on Earth is another one that bores me pretty much to tears every time I see it. But that train wreck, with its awesome miniature train and car slamming into each other, and then the full size mock-up cars throwing the actors and extras about, while circus animals scurry for safety, is a scene I can, and have, watched dozens of times. The rest of the movie never gets a second look from me.
This next one’s a bit of cheat (somebody call the blog police!) because I actually like the whole movie and watch the whole movie if it’s on. But… I also will simply watch one scene from it over and over if I can and that movie is Spellbound. And, yes, I’m talking about the dream sequence, the one whose set design was created by Salvador Dali. I am aware it’s a rather obvious choice but, still, I love it. And, again, I like the whole movie but I love that sequence more than I love the rest of the movie combined. Actually, this same logic applies to a lot of Hitchcock for me. I love many of his movies all by themselves but all of his movies also have some fantastic scene, or two or three, that I can watch time and time again without watching the rest of the movie. Like the climax of Strangers on a Train. It’s one of Hitch’s masterworks, in my opinion, and one of my favorite all time movies, but I can still just watch that climax by itself over and over.
Other movies have more to do with set pieces than anything else. If it’s a biblical epic, there’s a good chance it has some big budgeted action scene that I can watch and rewatch multiple times and just as good a chance the rest of the movie will leave me cold. The Ten Commandments I find pretty entertaining, actually, but still, I can just watch the parting of the Red Sea and I’m fine. With Ben-Hur, the sea battle and chariot race are all I really need, and Sampson destroying the temple is really all I want to see of Sampson and Delilah.
Of course, there are dozens and dozens of others and there’s a part of me that thinks if a movie can produce even one great scene or sequence, it’s done its job. As much as I love almost all forties and fifties sci-fi, I don’t find a lot to get excited by in When Worlds Collide but damned if I don’t love the whole special effects sequence when the planets pass by each other and earthquakes, floods, and fires break out. It’s pretty spectacular, especially for a fan of old-timey miniature work. So, for me, When Worlds Collide, succeeds because the one big effects sequence it has works splendidly. So even if I don’t like a movie, that doesn’t mean I might not recommend it. You’ll know when you hear me say, “but there’s this one scene…”
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