6. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1943)
Powell and Pressburger – the Archers – rarely missed the bullseye in a career in which they made one striking and idiosyncratic film after another.
Problematic, but remarkable and lively telling of the military career of one Clive Candy – Roger Livesey in a tour-de-force performance. Extending from the Boer War to WWII, Victoria Cross recipient Candy gets caught up in a duel, goes big game hunting, falls in love, serves in WWI and on and on.
The great, and mostly forgotten, Anton Walbrook plays Candy’s German rival and eventual friend. He tucks the film under his arm and nearly runs away with it in a moving scene where his Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff argues for admittance to Great Britain after fleeing a German country falling further into the grip of the Nazis.
And the stunningly beautiful Deborah Kerr scores a hat trick as she plays a trio of women who come and go in Candy’s life.
Inspired by a comic strip written by David Low, Powell and Pressburger have constructed a startlingly staged drama that touches on themes of brotherhood, sacrifice and, ultimately, how to know, and what to do, when the parade passes you by. Not to be missed.
7. Bushido: Cruel Code of the Samurai (Tadashi Imai, 1963)
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
– Lord Acton, historian and moralist
In modern day Japan, a woman attempts suicide. Her fiance sees a connection between that act and the cruel injustices visited upon his family throughout the centuries. Breathlessly, he recounts each story of humiliation and degradation suffered by his ancestors at the hands of the Lords they tried so nobly to serve.
Fans of anthology films will eat this one up. Each episode is lean and brutal. Intense and, at times, startling, this dark drama is as stark as it gets. No rays of light, here.
The 4th episode is the best of a really solid bunch. How far will a Lord go to test the loyalty of his subjects? Unfortunately, much farther than you’d think. At his Lord’s request, a man gives up his daughter to him. Then the Lord comes calling for his wife. But, it doesn’t end there.
As an emotional study of the heavy costs of subjugation, this film succeeds in making you feel the anguish of successive generations of a family intent on staying loyal to their betters – whatever the cost.
8. The Idle Class (Charlie Chaplin, 1921)
The rich get a swift kick in the rear in this hilarious Chaplin short.
On vacation and looking to play a round of golf, with the few rusty clubs in his possession, the Tramp gets mixed up with some uptight high society stiffs. Eventually, a wealthy woman mistakes him for her husband – a dead ringer for the Tramp.
The great thing about this one is that Chaplin gets laughs from both his signature Tramp character and his wealthy doppelganger. Case in point, the first big laugh comes courtesy of Chaplin as the finely coiffed and outfitted absent minded husband. It’s a great bit of mischievous misdirection which he handles masterfully.
The sight gags zip by in record time as the Tramp artfully screws up everyone’s golf game and crashes a costume ball where further chaos ensues.
A sort of warm up for “City Lights”, which Chaplin would make 10 years later, this brief bit of silliness is a joy to watch – all 32 minutes of it.
9. Another Thin Man (W.S. Van Dyke II, 1939)
From 1934 to 1947, William Powell and Myrna Loy starred as a well off married couple and detective duo in 6 fast paced and funny “Thin Man” movies. This, the third in the series, is a typical breeze of a film with plenty of laughs, intrigue and doggie jokes to spare.
Returning from an exhausting trip and looking to ease back into their normal routine, Nick and Nora Charles, instead, are called back into action. Frantic on the phone, Nora’s deceased father’s former business partner – and administrator of his estate – Colonel MacFay wants them to come down to his house and quick. Seems a former employee of MacFay’s, who did 10 years in the slammer for him, is out and wants blood. Soon enough, dead bodies start turning up with alarming regularity.
Somehow, some film comedies are still funny after 80 years while others fall flat in less than half that time.
Amazingly still fresh and playful, the not so secret success of this film – and the series as a whole – lies in the teasing back and forth between Nick and Nora. Clearly, they love each other. But, they’ve also been together long enough to have figured each other out. And it is from this awareness of each others rhythms and tendencies that their lively banter arises.
If you’ve ever complained about old films being too slow to watch, well, you’ll love this one. Director Woodbridge Strong Van Dyke II was known as, “One-Take Woody”, and, here, he keeps things moving as fast as an Olympic 100 metre race. Once down at MacFay’s estate, characters are quickly introduced and tensions between them quickly established. Plot and giggles move forward at a speedy pace.
Oh, and their Wire Fox Terrier, Asta, also gets in on the fun with several memorable moments – including one with a knife thrown at Nick.
10. Le Grand Amour (Pierre Etaix, 1969)
Once a protege of the great Jacques Tati, Pierre Etaix struck out on his own in the early sixties and, eventually, made this petite cadeau of a film – his best – about a bored, middle aged man who pursues his very young and very beautiful secretary.
You can tell Etaix is having a lot of fun here. Lots of clever, even, ingenius bits – including a dream sequence that would make Salvador Dali and Chuck Jones smile – mix with brief, look-away-for-a-second-and-you-miss-them gags.
Essentially a light comic tour of the often unstable and contradictory mind of the married middle-aged man, Etaix delights in playing with narrative convention, converting his film into a live action cartoon and going on tangent after tangent. Some gags pay off immediately while others take their time to deliver their final, satisfying, riff.
At times resembling a Parisian Pee-Wee Herman, Etaix’s presence is of the more serene variety. Here, he’s always impeccably dressed and behaved. His movements are always on point – they have a very neat and orderly quality about them – as if every tug on his suit jacket and every twirl of his umbrella has been painstakingly refined and obsessed over. Even his sight gags suggest elegance.
Slight, but a delight. Enjoy.