City Lights is the quintessential Chaplin film — both the most perfectly crafted and satisfying of all his films, and also the most representative of all the different textures and tones for which Chaplin is remembered, from slapstick and pantomime to pathos and sentiment, farce and irreverence to melodrama and social commentary.
A mounting sense of dread and inevitability hangs over Fred Zinnemann’s grim, downbeat Western classic High Noon, a black-and-white anti-spectacle about an aging lawman who receives a series of nasty shocks on the day he tries to hang up his gunbelt and begin a new life.
As he did in his prior Diary of a Country Priest, Bresson faithfully adapts his source material, but he also appends a subtitle to A Man Escaped — The Wind Blows Where it Wills, an allusion to Jesus’ discourse in John 3 about being born of water and the Spirit — and rechristens the protagonist (whose real name was André Devigny, and is played by François Leterrier) “Fontaine,” fountain. Clearly, like Diary, A Man Escaped is intended as a reflection on spiritual bondage, rebirth, and the mysteries of grace and providence, as much as about stone walls and iron bars.
That the film’s title mentions neither Wyatt Earp or the O.K. Corral is an indication of the lightness with which My Darling Clementine carries the legendary baggage of its subject matter. Unlike such self-conscious later films as Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (or, more recently, Wyatt Earp and Tombstone), nothing about My Darling Clementine betrays any awareness that the viewer is supposed to know these names and events. My Darling Clementine exemplifies the mythology of the old West, but it never feels like an act of myth-making — or demythologizing. As Battleground is to The Battle of the Bulge, My Darling Clementine is to Shootout at the O.K. Corral.
Buster Keaton’s first feature-length comedy is one of his best, a comic gem set against a backdrop of a Hatfield-McCoy style family feud. Raised far from the scene of generations of “McKay-Canfield” violence, young Willie McKay (Keaton) knows nothing about the bad blood between the two families — until the time comes for him to go home and claim his inheritance.
The Wizard of Oz is one of a very few shared experiences that unite Americans as a culture, transcending barriers of age, locale, politics, religion, and so on. We all see it when we are young, and it leaves an indelible mark on our imaginations. We can hardly imagine not knowing it. It ranks among our earliest and most defining experiences of wonder and of fear, of fairy-tale joys and terrors, of the lure of the exotic and the comfort of home.
The process of growing and learning is often glossed over in plot-driven coming-of-age films like The Lion King. By contrast, Bambi is about nothing else. With the patient single-mindedness of a child learning to walk or talk, the film focuses on the young deer prince’s repeated attempts to prop himself up on his stilt-like legs, to hop over a log, to say a word, to distinguish one boldly colored or flying thing from another. We see Bambi makes friends, cower at a thunderstorm, discover girls, and, in a defining, indelible scene recalled by subsequent films from The Lion King to Finding Nemo, face crushing tragedy. We watch him go from perplexed distaste at the mysteries of the opposite sex to falling head over heels, and we see him confronted with the implacable necessity of fighting for love.
Possibly the screwiest of all screwball comedies, My Man Godfrey is the ultimate Depression-era satire of the idle rich and tribute to the noble poor.
The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ is a remarkable relic from the very dawn of cinema.
Silent films were already old-fashioned and out of vogue in 1936 when Charlie Chaplin completed his last silent feature film, Modern Times, almost ten years after the sound revolution began with The Jazz Singer. A silent film consciously made for the sound era, Modern Times is a comic masterpiece that remains approachable today even for movie lovers raised on computer imaging and surround sound.
If Fantasia failed to spark a hoped-for entertainment revolution, its achievement is all the more starkly singular. A joyous experiment in pure animation, an ambitious work of imaginative power, a showcase of cutting-edge technique, and a celebration of great music, it is without precedent and without rival. I’ve watched it far too many times to count, and I have yet to begin tiring of it.
The comic genius Preston Sturges believed that laughter is the best medicine, and that what people in hard times want is to forget their troubles and escape for 90 minutes or so into a world of lighthearted comedy, snappy repartee and slapstick silliness.
Faithfully adapting its source material, Catholic novelist Georges Bernanos’s fictional autobiography of a soul, the film profoundly contemplates the spiritual meaning of suffering and persecution, conversion and incorrigibility, and the dark night of the soul with a rigor and insight evocative of Augustine’s Confessions or Thérèse’s Story of a Soul.
The zaniest, most delightful, most romantic screwball comedy of them all, Bringing Up Baby features Katherine Hepburn at her effervescent best and Cary Grant in a marvelous performance combining stuffiness and injured dignity with his usual debonair charm.
While working on Citizen Kane, Welles joked that "If they ever let me do a second picture, I’m lucky." He was only half right. He was lucky enough to make many additional pictures, some of them masterpieces in their own right. But the luckiest he ever got, which is more than lucky enough, was getting to make Citizen Kane itself. That unprecedented level of control and magical synergy was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — and, to his immortal credit, Welles made the most of it. He made Citizen Kane.
Rivaled only by the awesome Babylonian segments of D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance, Douglas Fairbanks’ lavish, extravagant The Thief of Bagdad ranks as the very pinnacle of silent-era spectacle.
The truth is that It’s a Wonderful Life is both darker and more subversive than its popular reputation as cheery holiday “Capra-corn” would suggest, and more robustly hopeful than cynics and hipster deconstructionists would have it.
The film is more than a dramatization, more than a biopic, more than a documentary: It is a spiritual portrait, almost a mystical portrait, of a Christ-like soul sharing in the sufferings of Christ.
You haven’t seen Zorro until you’ve seen Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as Zorro in the 1920 silent swashbuckling classic.
Don Q Son of Zorro, named one of the year’s ten best films by The New York Times, actually outdoes its predecessor, with a stronger and more sophisticated plot, better pacing, more interesting and complex characterizations, grander production values and set design, and more consistent action.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.