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Barbara Stanwyck (#110 of 7)

Summer of ‘88: Crocodile Dundee II

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Crocodile Dundee II</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Crocodile Dundee II</em>

The sequel to the runaway Aussie hit of 1986 (which managed to net both $360 million and a surprise Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay), opens with Mick “Crocodile” Dundee doing some fishing. Blasting dynamite is his method of choice, and he’s at peace in what seems like a wilderness, until a cut reveals the location to be New York City harbor. Boated policemen arrive mere seconds after the blast, only to give Dundee a pass and a smile unlikely to greet any foreigner handling explosives near downtown Manhattan nowadays. Following this clean and efficient start, scored to Peter Best’s guitar-heavy signature theme, the film starts making its steady way to cinematic hell.

After having peddled the beauty of his native continent to American TV viewers (and before becoming a spokesman for Subaru), Paul Hogan rehashed a number of old movie plots in the first Crocodile Dundee film, which he co-wrote and starred in. Tarzan merged with Mr. Deeds and went to town as a single character. Even though there was some spontaneity to the first movie, by 1988 Hogan’s rugged assembly had calcified into a deliberate look, his leather jacket looking fresh off the rack and the crocodile teeth in his cowboy hat all freshly brushed.

15 Famous Movie Phone Calls

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15 Famous Movie Phone Calls
15 Famous Movie Phone Calls

Budding blonde Ari Graynor continues the R-rated femme comedy trend this weekend in For a Good Time, Call…, a naughty film that pairs the funny gal with brunette Lauren Miller (otherwise known as Mrs. Seth Rogen). Inspired by Miller’s college exploits with roommate and co-writer Katie Ann Naylon, the movie casts the leading pair as sparring roomies turned phone sex operators, a scenario that soon proves especially lucrative. Phones may have undergone a lot of makeovers in recent years, but their effectiveness on screen has been solid since the days of the candlestick model. In honor of the new fantasy-fulfilling comedy’s basis in ring-a-ding-ding, we’ve gathered up 15 films with highly memorable phone calls, which run the gamut from disarming to terrifying.

Timeless Darkness Film Noir Collector’s Edition

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Timeless Darkness: Film Noir Collector’s Edition
Timeless Darkness: Film Noir Collector’s Edition

The world wasn’t exactly desperate for yet another film noir DVD box set, but here we are, with an inspired seven-film retrospective, Film Noir Collector’s Edition, out this week courtesy of Chicago-based Questar Entertainment, who are better known for PBS and nonfiction releases. No matter that five of these films were also released in a 2004 Questar box, Killer Classics, or that the scant bonus features are all boilerplate, or that each of these prints looks like it’s been gathering mildew in a Universal broom closet for the last five decades; when more than a half-dozen minor masterpieces reenter the marketplace, however unceremoniously, these complaints seem trivial.

This dully named Collector’s Edition is notable for containing two unsung films by noir masters Orson Welles and Fritz Lang (The Stranger and Scarlet Street, respectively), and the legendarily slapdash, under-seen masterpiece Detour, but these aren’t the only pleasures on display. The film noir style’s elasticity is seen in full effect: tense wrong-man chase sequences in D.O.A.; small-town grand guignol in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers; treacherous femmes fatales in Scarlet Street and Killer Bait; and political paranoia in The Stranger and Suddenly, featuring Frank Sinatra as a would-be presidential assassin who takes a family hostage. Here are 720 minutes of chain smoking and bourbon guzzling, botched murders, and doomed romance, and if these films lack the kinetic cinematography and silky-smoky ambience of the most legendary noir, there are enough noteworthy actors—Kirk Douglas, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Edmund O’Brien, Sterling Hayden, Lizabeth Scott, Welles, Sinatra—and crackling scripts for this collection to be considered exemplary. An artistic movement’s true value is perhaps best appreciated not in its greatest achievements, but in its more humble, formulaic successes, and these seven movies therefore testify to the aesthetic tenets and lasting impact of film noir.

Anthony Mann’s The Furies on Criterion

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Anthony Mann’s The Furies on Criterion
Anthony Mann’s The Furies on Criterion

Anthony Mann is best known today for the remarkable series of westerns he made with James Stewart in the fifties, but he reached his peak with Men in War (1957) and Man of the West (1958), late works which brought his central theme of the violence within man and the demoralizing aftermath of violence to nearly intolerable heights of insight and catharsis. In his famous Stewart films, Mann had a tendency to be a bit too tidy in his storytelling; coming out of one of his mid-period westerns can be a little like exiting a scrupulous, intelligent lecture on ethics and morality, festooned with some of the best landscape photography this side of John Ford. Criterion’s surprising, all-stops-out release of Mann’s early western The Furies (1950) offers a valuable view of this director nearing the height of his powers, before his gifts had calcified; in many ways, it’s his most exciting movie because it’s also his most unresolved, opening up a Pandora’s box of psychological issues that cannot be contained in any conventional conclusion.

At its core, The Furies is a passionate stand off between a father and a daughter, played by a rip-snorting Walter Huston (in his last role on screen) and a primal Barbara Stanwyck, who dazzlingly alternates between extreme aggression and extreme, childlike vulnerability. As T.C. Jeffords, a wily cattle baron who fancies himself a sort of prairie Napoleon, Huston is in titanic grand old man mold (if you want to see the real genesis of Daniel Day-Lewis’ John Huston-aping Daniel Plainview, look no further). His beady eyes twinkling, T.C. continually asks Vance to scratch his “sixth lumbar vertebrae,” and when you see the outrageously knowing way that Stanwyck scratches her Daddy’s itches, you’ll wonder how Mann snuck this Incest Out West epic past the censors.

5 for the Day: Barbara Stanwyck

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5 for the Day: Barbara Stanwyck
5 for the Day: Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck needed only a look to inform you of her less than noble intentions. With a raised eyebrow, a lowered eyelid or a bit lower lip, Stanwyck filled the screen with the promise of sex, a promise even the Hays Office couldn’t censor. The come-hither look was perfected by Stanwyck, and when I saw her onscreen, I knew the men she cast that gaze upon would toss better judgment and common sense to the wind to accept its invitation.

Men fantasized about Marilyn Monroe, Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne and Rita Hayworth, and while they were beautiful, they were the masculine idea of distant sexiness; a beauty that, even in their wildest dreams, was just out of reach of their horny, desperate grasp. Barbara Stanwyck was the opposite, a feminist idea of earthly hotness. She was sexy because she was attainable; not only was she within reach of your grasp, she’d grab you herself, slam you down on the bed and screw you unconscious. And then she would take your wallet.

Stanwyck played roles where you had to believe that no man, even the most devout, upstanding citizen, could resist doing her bidding. She had to be smart enough to get you to surrender body and soul. Once you slept with Monroe, you could carve that notch into your bedpost and move on; Stanwyck was a mindfuck that stayed with you long after the post-coital cigarette.

I could say that today’s “5 for the Day” is a celebration of the versatility of Ms. Stanwyck, but that would be a lie. It was merely an excuse to spend time in the glow of her gaze, imagining what would happen if I could jump into the screen and answer it.

5 for the Day: Wilder’s Wares

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5 for the Day: Wilder’s Wares
5 for the Day: Wilder’s Wares

While accepting the Foreign Film Oscar for Belle Epoque, director Fernando Trueba said “I would like to believe in God in order to thank Him. But I just believe in Billy Wilder, so thank you, Mr. Wilder.” Legend has it that, to request a screening of Epoque, Wilder called Trueba and greeted him by saying “Hello, Fernando? This is God.”

I’ve thanked De Lawd plenty of times, but somehow never got around to thanking my favorite director. Today’s Five for The Day attempts to reconcile that grievous error. Yet rather than listing five Wilder films (which you are welcome to do), our five for the day goes the thematic route, opting to cite five themes consistently found in Wilder’s work. This is not a scholarly lecture nor is it a reach-around and post-coital foot massage for auteur theorists. I’m doing it this way solely so I can cheat. I’m greedy, and asking me to talk about only five Wilder movies is like asking Matt to disregard The New World.

The cynic in Mr. Wilder would be proud. After all, his movies are full of greedy characters out for themselves no matter what the cost. Herewith, the Wilder Side of the Odienator: