Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Movies I Have Never Seen, Part 3

There are many movies in the world, and who has time to see them all? Here's three more classic movies I've long meant to see, but only recently viewed -- and what I thought of 'em.

PhotobucketWhy it's famous: From 1920, it's one of the earliest horror movies, a silent-film landmark of German expressionism and haunting imagery.
What I thought: This creepy tale is one of those movies many have heard about but few have probably actually seen, I imagine. It's a story of magic, hypnotism and murder, set in a surreal village. The mad Dr. Caligari and his sleepwalking servant Cesare wreak havoc in a story that seems to be drawn like a fairy tale; the film's distinctive shadowy, painted set design was hugely influential on horror and noir movies to come. It's a movie to watch for style -- admittedly, the characters are fairly shallow and the acting quite hysteric by today's standards, and the "it was all a dream" ending was probably a bit of a cliche even back in 1920, though. But nearly 100 years on "Caligari" remains disturbing -- the sleepwalking, wide-eyed Cesare is a nightmarish figure who'll stick with you.
Worth seeing if you haven't: Absolutely. You have to get in a particular mindset to watch silent movies from today's vantage point, of course, but this one is brisk, creepy and strange, and the dazzling visuals are still haunting, like watching a painting come to life.
Grade: A-

PhotobucketWhy it's famous: Robbie the Robot, man! Classic 1956 science fiction that attempted to be a bit thought-provoking and was a big influence on "Star Trek" and "Doctor Who" among others.
What I thought: Once you get past seeing "Naked Gun" star Leslie Nielsen as a straight man, this yarn plays like a really good episode of "Star Trek," basically. It's inspired by Shakespeare's "Tempest," of all things, and features a crew of space explorers who stumble upon an alien world where a mad scientist's experiments have gone awry and a strange alien civilisation is coming back to life. The story raises some serious philosophical issues about the psyche and human nature, although it occasional gets a bit bogged down. It's got a stark, striking sense of design, including the nifty robot Robbie who went on to become a "celebrity" in his own right.
Worth seeing if you haven't: Yes, although it may seem a bit slow and obvious in patches, but the great visuals and trailblazing themes make it work. And of course there's Robbie, the coolest robot until the Terminator came along.
Grade: B

PhotobucketWhy it's famous: The only film actor Charles Laughton ever directed, this 1955 noir has grown in reputation as a strange, haunting film that marries religion, sex and death like few other movies of the era.
What I thought: Like a fever dream collaboration between Flannery O'Connor and David Lynch, "Hunter" is one peculiar, mesmerizing movie. Demented serial killer and preacher Harry Powell (a never better Robert Mitchum) seduces a widow trying to get at her late husband's hidden fortune, but doesn't reckon with the willpower of her children. What follows is equal parts chase thriller and meditation on man and sin. Laughton's style is unique and strange; perhaps the closest comparison I can offer is some of Michael Powell's movies like Black Narcissus. It's expressionistic, yet has flashes of cold reality. Of course, "Hunter" was a flop at the time, but has since been recognized as the masterpiece it is. Mitchum is stunning – a sleazy, sexy and sinister beast, one of the best movie villains I've seen. Those "HATE" and "LOVE" tattoos on his hands have of course become icons themselves.
Worth seeing if you haven't: Definitely -- one of the best "lost classics" of the era I've seen, and deserving of its ever-growing reputation.
Grade: A

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