Wednesday, March 22, 2017

4 Off My Head - Ranking Robert Osborne's Faves

When our movie-watching buddy Robert Osborne died a couple of weeks ago a Daily Beast article from 2012 started making the rounds - titled "Robert Osborne's Secret Favorite Movies" it lists eleven lesser-appreciated films that the TCM host loved and recommended. Of the 11 there were only 3 that I had previously seen (Dodsworth, Indiscreet, and Remember the Night) and all three are indeed fabulous, so I figured I'd make a go of seeing as many of these new-to-me titles as I could right quick. It didn't hurt that several of them were billed as thrillers. And so while lounging around gratuitously this past weekend I watched four of the movies in one long go of it. And now I shall rank them, from Least Good (although not bad, by any means) to Most Good, as I see them, because why not!

4. The Narrow Margin (1952) -- Nicely shot Film Noir from early in the career of director Richard Fleischer (he made everything from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Red Sonja) starring Charles McGraw (he played the fisherman in the diner in The Birds) as a policeman who's forced to transport a mobster's about-to-sing moll across country via a train where Every Passenger Has Secrets. The last 15 minutes worth of surprises make it worthwhile but the moll herself is a real pain in the ass you're actively rooting against safe passage for. I suppose that's part and parcel for the moral murkiness of the Noirs but you don't love to hate her, you just kinda hate her.

3. The Big Clock (1948) -- Ask me again in five minutes and I might have totally rearranged the placement of these other three films, because I enjoyed all three of them immensely. I am planning on having more to say on The Big Clock tomorrow though for our "Thursday's Ways Not To Die" series, because it's got a death scene in it that I rewound and watched three times in a row. It's terrific. It stars Ray Milland as a crime magazine reporter tasked with working out a crime that he's personally just been framed for. He's trying to throw his fellow sniffing reporters off his own scent as the noose tightens; it's a great set-up, and the scenery (mid-century office building) is grand, and he's surrounded by a stellar supporting cast including Maureen O'Hara and my beloved husband-wife duo of Charles Laughton & Elsa Lanchester (the latter typically hysterical).

2. The Mating Season (1951) -- Every time I watch a Gene Tierney movie I kind of can't even process how extraterrestrially gorgeous she is - that woman was not of this Earth. I don't know why she isn't remembered more - she honestly might be the most beautiful Classic Hollywood actress there was. The Mating Season isn't entirely hers though - she plays a rich lady rescued from falling off a cliff (seriously) by a poor gentleman (John Lund, who's a bit of a dud frankly); the rest of the movie is a charming farce in which his mother (an Oscar nominated Thelma Ritter, typically delightfully Thelma-Ritter-ian) pretends to be their maid, et cetera shenanigans. Easily the best part of the movie is Miriam Hopkins playing Tierney's rich bitch mother - a total gas.

1. My Name is Julia Ross (1945) -- This movie rules! How had I never heard of this gem? It stars an adorably irritable Nina Foch as a woman who applies for a secretary position only to be kidnapped, drugged, and forcibly cast as the crazy wife of a crazy man in a mansion beside the sea in service of a murder plot most foul. How I went this far in life without a deranged Dame May Whitty I'll never understand. Julia Ross is utterly ridiculous, and I was enthralled.


So have you seen any of these?


Pierce said...

Thanks for this list. I will need to look for some of these. I just saw Remember the Night at Christmas. My friend bought it in London and we watched it after Christmas. I would love to own it. The performances are terrific. Hobson's Choice is a delight from start to finish, and frankly, Laughton's best performance. Indiscreet is good because of the chemistry between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.

I've been trying to track down a copy of Dodsworth for years. Not an easy film to find.

I'll keep my eye out for The Mating Season, My Name Is Julia Ross, The Narrow Margin, Roughly Speaking, The Tall Target and
Vacation From Marriage

DCameron said...

Two of the films on Osborne's list (Remember the Night and The Mating Season) are by gay director Mitchell Leisen, a favorite of mine.

joel65913 said...

I have seen and really like all four but I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE The Mating Season!! Yes Gene Tierney was a goddess walking amongst us and Lund a bit of a dullard but Miriam is marvelously flighty as she snacks on the scenery. I also get a kick out of Cora Witherspoon as the pompous corporate wife and Gene's take down of her.

BUT the real treasure for me is Thelma Ritter...I know she's always the treasure but this is my favorite performance of hers and the one that I think should have won her that elusive Oscar, though she's really the lead but I'm sure the studio would never have let Gene Tierney be seen as supporting at this junction in her career. It's also great to see Thelma get a viable romantic interest in the attractive, good humored Larry Keating-a fine character actor who should be better known. He and Thelma have a wonderfully lively chemistry.

On top of all that you get Grandma Walton and one of the grandmom's from Sixteen Candles as Thelma's girlfriends. It's the movie that just keeps giving!

ernesto66 said...

Interestingly, three out of these four inspired remakes, with 2/3 of those also worth hunting down and watching.

Peter Hyams' Narrow Margin is by far the inferior version of the two, simplifying the story and removing some the original's best twists altogether. It's bloated where the first is a smart incredibly pared-down thriller, a waste of Gene Hackman and (as most of her movies were) Anne Archer.

The other two, by comparison, are as good or better than the first versions. The Big Clock became No Way Out with Kevin Costner and Sean Young, back when he was the hottest star around and she was still a "thing". It not only didn't simplify the original but made it about 400% more complicated, while appropriately updating it for the paranoid 80s.

Julia Ross was done over as the amazing Dead of Winter with Mary Steenbergen and Roddy McDowell. It's an outstanding example of how to make gold with no budget and a tiny (but very professional) cast. Steenbergen is heartbreakingly fragile and McDowell even manages to keep his usual camp in check. Do not watch it when it's cold outside.

Jason Adams said...

Oooh thanks for that info, Ernesto -- I don't think I'll even make it through the weekend before watching DEAD OF WINTER, it sounds great!

NO WAY OUT I have seen but probably not since high school - all I really remember is that people used to talk about its backseat sex scene as the hottest thing for awhile.