Thursday, April 5, 2012

Three Great Movies

All three of these films are on Roger Ebert's list of Great Movies.

Duck Soup
Duck Soup is first Marx Brothers movie I have seen even though I was already familiar with Groucho Marx.
I was surprised to see that even though there is plenty of comedy, the movie doesn't have much of a plot. The brand of humor here was way ahead of its time and greatly influential to everything from Looney Tunes to Teller (of Penn & Teller who doesn't talk and acts like Harpo in some way) to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim shows which often make use of stock footage in a humorous context similar to what happens during the hilarious war scene.
Duck Soup features the well known mirror scene which has been parodied in everything from The Three Stooges to Bugs Bunny cartoons. Although the mirror scene had been done before in film, it is performed a bit differently here and in excellent fashion.
I didn't care as much for the scenes with Harpo bothering a lemonade seller. These scenes feel almost like something out of a silent film comedy. Of course that is not why I didn't like it, I just felt these parts didn't really fit in with the rest of the movie. Also I'm just a such a big fan of Groucho's word play as opposed to physical comedy that I wanted more scenes with him! Groucho as Rufus T. Firefly was simply amazing and its one of the greatest comedy roles ever, as well as one of the most memorable in all of cinema.

Double Indemnity
The director of Double Indemnity is Billy Wilder, who also directed one of my favorite movies, Sunset Blvd. I am familiar with Fred MacMurray from his Disney movies like The Absent-Minded Professor and The Shaggy Dog as well as his TV show My Three Sons. However, he usually played good/nice guys so it was interesting to see him in a different type of role earlier in his career. MacMurray plays Walter Neff, an insurance salesman. Neff visits the home of Phyllis Dietrichson (played by Barbara Stanwyck) who eventually convinces him to help kill her husband but make it look like an accident or should I say "accidentally on purpose". Since Neff is an expert at the insurance business, he knows all the tricks of the trade to get away with the deed while few will suspect him.
Stanwyck's wig is a little ridiculous and even though it was Wilder's idea, he didn't realize how bad it looked until it was too late to re-shoot the earlier scenes. Even though the bad wig wasn't really intentional, I actually think this fits with her character as it makes sense that Phyllis would wear a wig to hide something from her past.
There seems to be an implied sexual relationship between Neff and Phyllis. Although this ambiguity is because of the Hayes Code, it does makes sense within context of film as Neff is recording his story for Keyes and probably wouldn't go into detail about that aspect of his story.
Edward G. Robinson has a supporting role as Barton Keyes, Neff's boss at the insurance company. Although I already knew who Robinson was, this is actually the first movie I've seen with him. While Robinson doesn't have as much screen time as MacMurray or Stanwyck, I'm surprised he didn't get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as he stole every scene he was in.

Double Indemnity was groundbreaking at the time for two main reasons. First, it is a crime thriller that does not have a police officer or detective as the main character. Law enforcement play a very small role in the movie since our story is told through the eyes of those trying to commit and get away with a crime. Even though this had been done before, it would usually be in gangster movies where the police would still have a strong on-screen presence.
Second, we are told "whodunit" at the beginning of the movie by our main character. At the beginning of the film Neff is shown dictating and recording the story from his perspective to give to Keyes. Wilder's Sunset Blvd. would later use its main character as a narrator in a similar way.
Double Indemnity also features an early example of the film trope that a car won't start at a crucial moment which we still see in recent movies.
Double Indemnity was nominated for seven Oscars but unfortunately didn't win any. It's main competition was the musical Going My Way which won seven Oscars that year.
The "alternate" ending would have been unnecessary as what would have shown is implied in the end anyway so I'm glad they cut it. Double Indemnity is a master of subtext and suspense that I really enjoyed. It is only the second Billy Wilder film I have seen and I loved both so I'll have to make it a point to check out more of his work.

The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Bridge on the River Kwai is historical fiction that is based on the novel by Pierre Boulle (who also wrote the book for Planet of the Apes) which in turn is inspired by true events of the Burma Railway during World War II. The actual situation was a lot worse for British POWs and they did not collaborate with the Japanese in building the bridge. I am fine with a story taking liberties with true events (as long as it is clear it isn't a docudrama which is the case here) since it makes me want to go out and learn more about what actually happened.
The Bridge on the River Kwai was directed by David Lean and this is the first film I have seen from this talented director.
Probably the most memorable scene from the movie is when the POWs whistle the catchy Colonel Bogey March. I saw this movie over a month ago and its still stuck in my head!
William Holden plays Shears, the American POW. While Holden does a great job as usual, I found myself more interested in the building of the bridge than his story to go back and attempt to blow up the bridge. These scenes were well done, its just that I found the other story and characters were more compelling.
The Bridge on the River Kwai won seven Oscars, including a win for the fantastic cinematography by Jack Hildyard.
Alec Guiness won his only Oscar for this film and was fantastic as Lt. Colonel Nicholson, the leader of the British POWs. Sessue Hayakawa played Colonel Saito, and although this his is most well-known role for today's audiences, he was hugely popular in silent films and was the first Asian-American movie star. Although Hayakawa was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, I wish he had won for his great performance.
The ending is tense and a perfect conclusion to the film.


  1. Wow! It really does take a lot to make you give out a 10/10, huh?

    I kid, I kid. Great reviews! I'm thrilled that I was able to take part in helping you expand your cinematic horizons!

    Keep on watching, and keep on blogging!

  2. haha, 10s for me are essentially a bonus as they are not just the movies I consider to be the best, but my favorites of the best. Who knows, one of these or another movie by one of these filmmakers may someday get a 10 from me!

    Thanks, I am really enjoying my adventure through film! I still have a lot more to catch-up on.

  3. I've seen both Duck Soup and Bridge over the River Kwai, but it's been far too long to remember with any degree of certainty just how good they were. I think it may be time to revisit them (especially Duck Soup, which was a favorite of mine when I was younger).

    Fuck number ratings =P

  4. You should definitely watch Duck Soup again, its pretty short and is on YouTube.
    Also I agree with you about number ratings, I feel that the actual content of the review is far more important. Still I felt I might as well do number ratings for the sake of this blog. As I said, my scale of ratings for this blog is a combination of how much I enjoyed a movie and how well I thought it was made, two very different things. And I have no problem changing ratings over time although very rarely have I changed more than a point either way at a time.