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Monday, January 4, 2016

Classic Film Obsessions for 2015

I watched 178 movies that were new to me in 2015. I know this because I use to log what I've seen.  This site is linked to so every movie or TV episode logged there will be 'checkable' on  While there are some contemporary films among the 178 --I do try to get to see a few films in theaters--most were films made before 1960. This post highlights just a few of my new discoveries and obsessions over the past year.

Film Noir

When I care to admit my prodigious movie-watching to friends or family, I quickly follow up with "you know I took an online course in film noir this summer."  I feel I get a pass after this comment, because, after all, you have to watch lots of films if you're taking a course (!).  While I may not claim that I'm obsessed with film noir, I can say for a few months this summer, June-August, I was very nearly so, by necessity.  This course was run by Ball State University in a partnership with Turner Classic Movies (TCM), and I joined about 2000 other budding hardboiled dames and gents:
 I'm proud to say I earned a 'certificate' for my troubles.

During this adventure I corrected some embarrassing outages in my list of watched classic films, including THE MALTESE FALCONTHE BIG SLEEP, and OUT OF THE PAST.  I also found I loved some lesser-known noir including 99 RIVER ST., DOATOO LATE FOR TEARS.

My adventures into film noir led me to one of my 2015 obsessions:

Alan Ladd

Handsome, magnetic Alan Ladd was a huge star in the 1940s and 1950s, and yet is rarely mentioned today in lists of the most popular stars of Old Hollywood. I could go into why that is, but all I'll say here is, that's a real shame.  His most famous noirs, which I watched for the course, were probably THIS GUN FOR HIRE, THE GLASS KEY, and THE BLUE DAHLIA.  All featured Ladd's classic noir 'tough but vulnerable' anti-hero.  Ladd is probably best known today (if at all) in the greater public consciousness as the titular SHANE in George Stevens' western classic.  However for this blog, I want to highlight another Ladd western that is definitely worth your time: BRANDED.  Made a couple years before SHANE, and while certainly not in the same league, it combines a taut story, exciting direction by Rudolph Mate (former cinematographer), a three-dimensional and exceptional performance by Ladd, and terrific support from Charles Bickford, Joseph Calleia, Mona Freeman, and Robert Keith.  The basic plot summary is Ladd, as Choya the gunfighter, is talked into posing as the long lost son of a rancher to gain himself and his partner a great fortune.  However, after a while he begins to regret what he's doing and has the opportunity to make everything right.   Below are some screenshots (minor spoilers alert):
Opening title

Ladd prepares to shoot his way out of a hostage situation. He explains his guns are his only friends
Ladd reluctantly submits himself to getting the telltale tattoo that will create his new identity.
Sparks fly early with Ladd's new found "sister" (lovely Mona Freeman)
After a staged confrontation, Charles Bickford discovers the tattoo identifying the new ranch hand as his long lost son. (A shirtless Ladd scene is a requirement for most of his films.  Eh, who's complaining?).
A bit of remorse showing as Ladd completes the deception.
Lovely family 'discovery' scene.
Ladd's evil partner (wonderful Robert Keith) and Mexican step dad (Joseph Calleia)
Trouble on the border
Final confrontation and resolution scene.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

I was introduced to the famous son of the silent film superstar earlier this year in one of his most famous, and terrific roles as the swashbuckling villain of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1937).  I was instantly smitten, and was thrilled to learn that he had his own day of movies in TCM's Summer Under the Stars this past August.  One of the absolute gems of this day was the pre-code UNION DEPOT, co-starring comedienne Joan Blondell, here in a dramatic role.  Doug gets to play a hobo masquerading as a gentleman during one fateful day at the station, where he gets into major trouble with a counterfeiter, and saves Joan from a nasty stalker while assuring she makes her train to her future, after, of course, trying to pay for her services.  It's a wonderfully choreographed film, taut at only 67 minutes-- the timing of the actions within each scene are perfect, and must happen in such a way to propel the action forward. Additionally there are little touches with minor, unnamed characters that are brilliant in creating the atmosphere of the time at the station, and adding some comic relief to the proceedings. Fairbanks is utterly convincing as the vagrant turned hero, demonstrating quite a range of emotions.  There is also a generous helping of pre-code spiciness to keep things interesting and real at the same time.  This film is on DVD and I had to add it to my collection.  MUST see! Warning -- some spoilers below.

Part of the stellar opening sequence, an extended crane shot of the inside of the station.

Friends on the lam plot their next move at the station. Fairbanks with the wonderful Guy Kibbee.
With a 'borrowed' outfit, Doug decides he likes his new rakish look.  
Doug and Joan's early tense meeting, neither sure what the other is offering.
In trouble.
Look at that face!!  Saying a wistful goodbye to Joan.
Back where he started.

George Sanders

Finally, I spent many hours watching films with the suave British Sanders.  Of the same generation as Ladd and Fairbanks, if a few years older, Sanders had a long career mostly playing debonair cads, but ones that can't be resisted.  His deep resonant voice was a huge asset for this talented actor, and I've read a number of comments on social media from those willing to listen to him read the phone book for an evening's entertainment.  I would count myself among them,  His most famous role is probably in the fabulous ALL ABOUT EVE, but I'm highlighting a lesser known film where he gets to play a good guy; mind you, a somewhat rakish and self-satisfied good guy, but heroic just the same.  The film is FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, an Alfred Hitchcock film from 1940.  Playing a supporting character curiously named Scott ffolliott, Sanders steals most of his scenes from the other actors (Herbert Marshall excepted) with his breezy line delivery and body language.  He could also be straight and serious as shown below.
We're introduced to Sanders as the driver of the getaway car with stars Laraine Day and Joel McCrea.
A typical Sanders pose.
Sanders and fellow British actor Herbert Marshall (my obsession with him will need its own post) have a terrific, tense confrontation scene that is Hitchcock at his best.  Two of the absolute best voices  of  20th century cinema enhance their duel of wits.
Sanders in a rare moment for him -- complete straight horror as he watches a brutal scene at gunpoint.
Sanders at the center of this brilliantly composed scene toward the end of the film.  Tension is building.
That's it for my first installment -- whew!  This highlights only 3 out of 178 films new to me in 2015, but hopefully gives a sense of the diversity of entertainment that made my year what it was.  Thanks for reading and stop back!


  1. Yeah, I don't complain about the shirtless Ladd scenes either. I made my mom watch a couple of his movies with me last month, and during "Appointment for Danger," there's an extended scene of him in basically just boxers. My mom was like, "Oh, put some clothes on, for Pete's sake!" I was like, "You don't understand -- this guy just barely missed being on the Olympic swim team before he was in movies, and he was in beautiful shape for decades -- they shoehorn at least one shirtless scene for him into most of his movies." (What I wanted to say was, "Stop complaining and let me enjoy this!" but... she's my mom. Not the sort of thing I can say to my mom.)

    ("Getting beaten to a pulp" is something that happens in a lot of his films too. Hmm.)

    Anyway! "Branded" is so good. I love that it has a much different story line than what we expect from a western. And of course, nobody really does "bad guy who's reconsidering his wayward ways and wanting to go straight" like Alan Ladd.

    1. Haha I so know that scene in APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER!! Cute about your Mom. I watched some of his films with my Mom, too, and she generally liked them, but she's more a Tyrone Power gal. ;-)

    2. Yeeeeeeeah, I decided right then that we didn't need to watch The Great Gatsby together after all. Since he's got that lovely swimming pool scene.

      I like Tyrone too :-) Such a cutie! My mom isn't a big fan of his either, though -- she's more into Robert Redford. I honestly thought she'd like Alan better than she did, because she usually likes blonds. And I usually don't. But nope, we're flip-flopped on him. (Ditto for Vic Morrow, whom I adore and she cares little for. Hmmmmmmmmm.)

    3. Haha. So many shirtless scenes. There's a great one in CHINA. They do make the viewing experience just a little teeny bit more enjoyable. 😊 I don't know Vic Morrow that well, but I'll keep my eye out!

    4. I haven't seen China yet! Don't you love how he made a gazillion movies, and so many of them are actually find-able?

      Naturally, I don't love Alan Ladd just for how nice he looks by the pool, but it IS a nice bonus :-o