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 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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The Man Ray Movie Challenge: Caesar and Cleopatra (1945)

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To view Caesar and Cleopatra click here.

In 1951, surrealist artist Man Ray, who was a fan of the cinema, quipped, “The worst films I have ever seen, the ones that put me to sleep, contain ten or fifteen marvelous minutes. The best films I have ever seen only contain ten or fifteen worthwhile ones.” Man Ray made this provocative statement because he liked to gripe that popular movies were too long. I don’t necessarily agree with the reason for his comment, but I like the idea behind it in general, especially the first half of the statement. I often find a scene, sequence, performance, shot or ten marvelous minutes in movies I don’t like. In the spirit of Man Ray, and with the entire FilmStruck catalogue at my disposal, I decided to challenge myself by occasionally watching and writing about a film that I detested. The challenge is to find something about the film that I did like, or to offer a suggestion on why it should be viewed.

This is not to suggest that any of the films available on FilmStruck are “bad,” which is vague criteria to begin with, but to recognize that viewers don’t all have the same tastes, and to acknowledge that some films don’t age well.

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Movie as Manifesto: The Fountainhead (1949)

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Forget for a moment the philosophies of Ayn Rand. Forget the unrelenting stoicism of every character involved. Forget, if you can, that the dialogue, from beginning to end, plays like an ever flowing stream of talking points, slogans and mottos rather than actual words any normal human being would ever utter. Forget all of that and simply revel in the fact that, once upon a time, someone put Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal and Raymond Massey together in a movie in which they, ostensibly, form a love triangle and as an endlessly engaging commercial entertainment, it worked. It worked like gangbusters. Then go back to all the other stuff because, let’s face it, you couldn’t avoid it if you tried. The Fountainhead(1949), directed by King Vidor from a screenplay by Ayn Rand based on her own novel, is one of the most ludicrously naked political tracts ever filmed. But, damn, is it fun to watch.

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An Uneasy Friendship: David and Lisa (1962)

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To view David and Lisa click here.

David and Lisa (1962) introduces viewers to two young, attractive and deeply troubled patients living at a private mental health clinic. David (Keir Dullea) suffers from extreme anxiety and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), which causes him to become severely agitated when another person touches him. The childlike Lisa (Janet Margolin) has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and insists on speaking only in rhymes. The two also exhibit symptoms of autism. Over the course of the film, this unlikely pair form an uneasy friendship that allows them to confront their psychoses.

This sympathetic portrait of mental illness was directed by Frank Perry and based on a book by Dr. Theodore Issac Rubin, a former president of the American Institute for Psychoanalysis. Perry’s wife and creative partner Eleanor, who earned a master’s degree in psychiatric social work from Case Western Reserve University, wrote the screenplay. The film was made with just $185,000 and became one of the most prestigious American independent pictures of the 1960s, netting its creator’s several awards including Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Although David and Lisa was a popular and critical success at the time of its release, it tends to be overshadowed by its 1963 Oscar contenders including  Lawrence of Arabia (1962), To Kill a Mocking Bird (1962), Lolita (1962) and The Miracle Worker (1962).

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A Forgotten Film to Remember: All Night Long (1963)

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To view All Night Long click here.

Basil Dearden is not generally a name that stirs excitement in the hearts of movie fans, or even classic movie lovers. I knew him as a British director who had worked in the 1950s and 1960s, but he did not make horror films for Hammer, and though he worked at Ealing Studio, he did not direct any of those iconic comedies that show up in retrospectives or DVD collections. Like many movie fans, my appreciation of British film of this period tends to lean toward Hammer and Ealing. Though I recognized Dearden’s name, I was not familiar with his body of work. After stumbling across All Night Long (1963) currently streaming on FilmStruck, I gained a newfound respect for him.

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The Mad King: The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

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To view The Private Life of Henry VIII click here.

Henry VIII rose to the throne in 1509  after his father, Henry VII died. His father was the last man to ascend the throne through battle, Richard III being slain on the field in The Battle of Bosworth. But son Henry VIII never earned his throne through battle and was born with a sense of monstrous entitlement that would carry over into adulthood, and make its impact on the entire empire. In fact, his time on the throne would see the power of the monarch expand beyond anything previously imagined. Four hundred years later, in 1933, Alexander Korda would bring Henry’s personal life to the screen with The Private Life of Henry VIII, starring Charles Laughton in the title role. It became a box office hit and, to this day, Laughton’s portrayal of Henry is what most people think of when they think of Henry VIII, even if they’ve never seen the movie or heard of Charles Laughton. It’s like Robert Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver in Disney’s Treasure Island (1950). It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen it or heard of Newton (though, if not, shame on you), your idea of a pirate probably comes from him. But Laughton’s performance, as good as it is, stands in service to a film that has only 97 precious minutes to tell a tale that could easily fill three hours and then some.

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The Red Balloon (1956)

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To view The Red Balloon click here.

I like to think of silent cinema as our very own Tower of Babel as built by our great grandfathers in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. Most pre-talkies required only a few scant intertitles here and there to be translated into different languages before being exported around the world. Most of the information then being conveyed was done visually. Iconic giants like Charlie Chaplin traversed easily across cultural borders and became famous on a level that even today no Kardashian could hope to match. Once the talkies came around, that tower of pure visual language that so easily spoke to many cultures came crashing down.

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Bryan Foy and John Alton: An Unlikely Team

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To view the “Anthony Mann/John Alton Noir” theme on FilmStruck, click here.

Anthony Mann gained a reputation for creating lean, mean film noirs with the help of cinematographer extraordinaire John Alton. Mann’s stylish direction and memorable characters in film noir, as well as in Westerns and dramas make him a favorite among classic movie lovers. You can count the Streamliners among Mann-fans based on the many FilmStruck posts about the series “Anthony Mann/John Alton Noir,” including my own article from earlier this year.

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Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life (1956)

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To view Bigger Than Life click here.

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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Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.