Celebrating Great Films

Friday, August 23, 2013

Roman Holiday

#220 at the time of writing.

What a delightful film. A rom com, technically, although it feels leagues more sophisticated than most. The story of a bored and sheltered princess who escapes her guardians for a day of adventure in Rome, this movie moves along at a jolly old clip, full of clever physical comedy without descending into slapstick (well, maybe a smidge), and refreshingly real human reactions. And to top it all off, a touching ending that leaves you thinking.

Props to director William Wyler (who seems to have been cursed with a lasting reputation as always being only the second best) for creating something that feels so fresh, and to Audrey Hepburn and Eddie Albert for wonderful acting. (Gregory Peck was just a little too straight down the line to stand out.)

Despite this being her first major film role, Audrey Hepburn deservedly won the Best Actress Oscar. An auspicious start to her career. Her character is sublime - spunky, vulnerable, noble, petulant, charming, tortured - and she captures it all.

The original writer, Dalton Trumbo, was blacklisted as one of the legendary Hollywood Ten, and therefore could not receive credit for the screenplay, even when it won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay. Instead, his friend, Ian McLellan Hunter, took credit for the story and accepted the Oscar. Trumbo's wife, Cleo, was finally presented with the award in 1993, long after his death in 1976.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Once Upon a Time in the West

#24 at the time of writing.

The fact that this is often lauded as the best Western movie ever made confirms to me that I'm not a fan of the genre. Pioneering and railroad building and strong characters (male and female) should be right up my street, but honestly I find it hard to have patience for the whole slow paced, lonely desert, angry men, badly dubbed thing.

Having said that, even if I wasn't at the edge of my seat, I appreciated the massive amount of artistry in this film. I suspect that, now I know what to expect, my enjoyment of it would only grow if I watched it again. (And I am prepared for the mindset I'll need to enjoy director Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy whenever I get round to watching that.)

Mrs. McBain travels from New Orleans to move in with her new family in frontier Utah, only to find them murdered. But by whom? And why? The prime suspect befriends her and offers to go after the real killer, accompanied by the mysterious Harmonica man on his quest to get even.

I was fascinated to learn that (as well as Bernardo Bertolucci) horror master Dario Argento had a hand in creating the story. How much, I wonder, of the success of 1960s Italian-made "Spaghetti" Westerns in subverting and enriching the genre is down to the creative cleverness of these men, and how much is simply down to approaching the subject matter from a different, more detached cultural context?

Interesting that Clint Eastwood was offered a role, but turned it down. He was getting offered roles a grizzled gunman in 1968?! That guy must be SO OLD by now.

Ennio Morricone's score must also be mentioned as a highlight.