Best of the 1910s

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910)

I’m a huge fan of the fantasy world Frank L. Baum created: his books, the authorized sequels by the “Royal Historians of Oz”, The Wicked Years, and the miraculous 1939 film.

This isn’t the best adaptation of his most famous tale (Toto is replaced with a cow and Dorothy meets the scarecrow in Kansas before arriving in Oz). However, the joy of the material bleeds through and makes it more captivating than it should be, showing how fertile it would become for the imagination of others.

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Remind me why The Babadook always follows the Tracks

By the Law (1926)

By the Law (1926)

Five prospectors head to the Yukon. After one of them kills two of his compatriots, the survivors, a husband and wife, subdue him, but, isolated from civilization, struggle deciding how to proceed. Should they extract justice or wait weeks for the authorities to come?

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Don’t open the box, unless you want to know what’s inside

Pandora's Box (1929)Pandora’s Box (1929)

Lulu (Louise Brooks) convinces her former paramour, newspaper publisher Ludwig Schon, to marry her, but when he comes home and finds her with her “first patron,” they fight and she accidentally kills him.

Convicted of manslaughter, she goes on the run. When her limited money runs out, she turns to prostitution, and her life ends tragically at the hands of Jack the Ripper.

Remarkable in its era, this melodrama features an unrepentantly independent and sexually liberated woman. The film works because Brooks is captivating and possesses a rare ability to be overtly sexual without being slutty. We want her to find happiness despite her selfish, borderline abhorrent behavior. We’d like for her to escape her tragic fate, but we don’t pity her because she earned her demise.

This film was succeeded as my favorite film released in 1929 by Applause.

Big or Little? Who Cares?

Little Big Man (1970)

Ten-year old Jack Crabb is abducted by Pawnee Indians and raised by their leader Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George). “Rescued” by the US Calvary, he lives with Reverend Silas Pendrake and his wife Louise (Faye Dunaway). When she attempts to seduce him, he runs away, briefly working with a snake oil salesman before reconnecting with his long-lost sister, Caroline who wants him to be a gunslinger.

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Put that Puppy to Work

Work (1915)

The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) helps paint a room even though he’s clearly ill-suited for the job.

The highlight is a sequence where our hero (Sisyphus-like) pushes a wheelbarrow up a long hill while gravity conspires against him.

As Chaplin perfects his famous character, there’s a harder edge to the film, less bemusement and more frustration.

Fatty's Plucky Pup (1915)

Fatty’s Plucky Pup (1915)

Fatty (Roscoe Arbuckle) has two loves: his neighbor Lizzie and his dog Luke. He angers local dog catchers by thwarting their efforts to take Luke, then accidentally crosses paths with a local gang. In response, his enemies join forces to kidnap Lizzie. With Luke’s help, Fatty rescues his beloved.

Unlike Chaplin, Arbuckle didn’t create a character, his comedy subverted our expectations based on his appearance. The physicality of his comedy reminds me of Chris Farley in his famous Chippendale’s and Matt Foley routines.

Classical Music in the Fall

 

Autumn Sonata (1978)Autumn Sonata (1978)

In the final film of Ingrid Bergman’s career, she’s plays aging concert pianist, Charlotte opposite Liv Ullman as her estranged daughter Eva.

This tour de force in dysfunctional family relationships doesn’t resort to cheap stunts like the more recent August: Osage County (2013). Charlotte and Eva aren’t cruel people and don’t delight in the misery of others. They made rational, cold-hearted decisions, based on self-interest, which destroyed their family.

Ingmar Bergman’s influence on twentieth century art needn’t be rehashed here. This collaboration with sometime lover Liv Ullman is a searing and raw portrait of unfulfilled family relationship and one of his most accessible films.

This was replaced as my favorite film released in 1978 by The End.

 

 

Winsor McCay and Nemo, the small

Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics (1911)

Winsor McCay created Little Nemo in 1905 in a comic strip for the New York Herald, and the techniques he developed to tell the story of Nemo’s adventures in Slumberland would soon become standard.

This adaptation, one of the earliest animated films, is not particularly sophisticated, but holds up fairly well in its 110th decade.

This was succeeded as my favorite film released in 1911 by Baron Munchausen’s Dream.

Cigarette Smoking Man would approve

Out of the Past (1947)Out of the Past (1947)

When Private investigator Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) finds Whit Sterling’s (Kirk Douglas) missing girlfriend, Kathie Moffat, in Acapulco, they fall in love and run away together.

When Jeff’s old partner, Jack Fisher, finds them, Kathie disappears.  Jeff assumes a new identity and lives a quiet life until he’s summoned to meet with Whit once again.

Robert Mitchum is the perfect noir actor because he looks like he’s already had two drinks before the scene begins.

From the late 1940s into the 1970s, Kirk Douglas was one of the premiere actors in Hollywood, but his formal style fell out of favor with the advent of the more naturalistic approach favored by Brando and Dean.

One of the first American authors to write hardboiled fiction, James M. Cain’s work laid the foundation for the film noir genre which dominated movie theaters following the second World War.

The techniques Jacques Tournier perfected in low budget films for RKO Pictures such as Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943) helped him create this atmospheric film which Roger Ebert called “the greatest cigarette smoking movie.”  We may not understand what’s happening or who’s double-crossing who, but we enjoy watching it happen.