#29 Double Indemnity

“How could I have known that murder could sometimes smell like honeysuckle?”
Walter Neff

Billy Wilder displays his versatility as a director in his noir tale of love, insurance, and murder.

Walter Neff (Fred Macmurray) is an intelligent, hard working insurance salesman. His life seems to be going well, that is until he travels to the Dietrichson house to re-sell Mr. Dietrichson auto insurance. But when he arrives Mr. Dietrichson is not home, So Walter is forced to deal with Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), a woman that he is instantly attracted to.

Walter and Phyllis banter for a while, and soon, Phyllis is the only thing on Walter’s mind. So when Phyllis asks Walter to meet with her, he is all too willing to blow off his previous engagements in order to oblige.

At this meeting Phyllis expresses her uneasiness regarding the safety of her husband. She claims that his job is dangerous yet, due to superstition, he refuses to get accident insurance. Phyllis proceeds to ask Walter if there is a way to insure her husband without him knowing it. Despite her pout, and Walter’s attraction to her, Walter quickly sees that Phyllis’s request is actually a murder plot.

Instead of reporting her though, Walter decides to help Phyllis in her plot to take out an insurance policy and kill her husband.

The task is not as simple as it would seem though. Working at Walter’s company is Barton Keyes (Edward Robinson), a manager that has developed a sixth sense for dealing with insurance fraud.

Still Walter is confident that he can pull of the perfect murder. His bravado is so great in fact that he attempts to walk away with double the maximum payout by capitalizing on the double indemnity clause in the insurance policy.

The murder, and the claim, goes off with out a hitch. But when Walter’s boss starts to get a hunch that Mr. Dietrichson’s death was no accident, Walter quickly feels the walls of his freedom closing in around him.

He quickly engages in a struggle against Phyllis, his boss, and even his own morality if he hopes to escape the long arm of the law.

This film depends heavily on how well the viewer receives Fred Macmurray. There are very few shots that do not include him, and most of the dialogue is either delivered by him, or plays of something he has said.

This can be troubling. MacMurray holds the screen well enough, but something about his demeanor can be off-putting in this film. This works a little on some levels, but does not on others. In scenes that Walter portrays himself as a romantic interest for Phyllis, or a close friend to Keyes, his “side mouth smile” and piercing eyes undermine the character. In scenes that Walter is a killer, adulterer, and insurance con man, his demeanor is perfect.

The rest of the cast just sort of fall into place around MacMurray. Every other actor serves solely to put the spotlight on the lead, and these understated performances were exactly what the film needed.

The film’s strongest asset though is not its performances, it is its narration. MacMurray is at his best, as is the film, when he is narrating. His strong, melodic, voice sets the mood for the film perfectly. And despite any of the other shortcomings he may have had, his voice made him perfect for this role.

The film is an enjoyable watch. It is dark, but it’s still enjoyable. This is no doubt the subtle touch of Billy Wilder, the expert director behind Some Like It Hot and Sunset Blvd. With this film Wilder expands his already impressive resume. Like a chameleon behind the scenes Wilder is able to adapt his style to suit whatever the film needs, and the result is a taut, well told story of murder, deception, and the stupidity of infatuation.

#28 All About Eve

“Funny business, a woman’s career – the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you’ll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you’re not a woman. You’re something with a French provincial office or a book full of clippings, but you’re not a woman. Slow curtain, the end.”
Margo Channing

Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s superb story of betrayal and ambition lights the screen ablaze with fire and music thanks to its intriguing plot, brilliant performances, and razor sharp dialogue.

When a supposedly naïve Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) gets a golden ticket to meet her stage idol Margo Channing (Bette Davis), her sweet nature and unspeakable good qualities quickly earn her a spot in the actress’ heart.

Eve quickly lands a job as Margo’s personal assistant, and eventually begins to impress Margo with her hard work and attentiveness. It would seem impossible to come up with anything negative to say about Eve.

As their time together grows though, Margo starts to notice certain things about Eve. Eve begins to mimic the characteristics, movements, and clothing of Margo. At this point the “Honeymoon” ends.

Margo’s insecurities about her age (40), and her looks, quickly get transferred onto Eve. Margo, much to the chagrin of her friends, begins to belittle Eve publicly, an act that Eve accepts with great humility.

It is at this point of the story that there is a nearly seamless transition in the mood. This occurs when Eve becomes Margo’s understudy, a choice that would seem obvious due to the fact that she has seen every performance of this play, and Margo misses a performance, giving Eve the opportunity to shine, even if only for one night.

Eve’s performance is met with quite a good reception, and no one feels stronger about it than Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), a well-known theatre reviewer.

Dewitt wants to run an article on Eve for his paper, so he convinces her to come to dinner with him. During the interview Eve breaks her sugary sweet character and says something negative about her mentor Margo.

The result of this is a purging of any friendship that had once existed between Eve and Margo, and the destruction of virtually every friendship she has.

It is at this point that Eve suggests that she be given the part in Lloyd Richards’ (Hugh Marlowe), a long time collaborator of Margo’s, new play. When Margo backs out of the project Eve finally has her chance to shine, but her true character is revealed, and it is not a pleasant one.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s (Writer, Director) vision for this film was crystal clear. From the first minute of the film it grabs hold of you and pulls you through the ups-and-downs of its characters lives.

The acting is superb (there were five Oscar nods for acting alone in this flic), and despite the fact that there are arguably five main characters, each actor is able to establish his or herself as a dominant screen presence. For some indication on just how good the acting is in this film one should note that Marilyn Monroe’s performance was overshadowed to the point that she was almost unnoticeable, and that is not a knock on her at all.

Another area in which the film succeeds is its ability to tell a story from women’s perspectives, while still appealing to men, and never once having to resort to sex. Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, and Celeste Holm all share the role of lead, and battle for the attention of the viewer, without ever detracting from one another.

The truly great thing about this film though, is its dialogue. Joseph L. Mankiewicz deserves all the credit in the world for his Wilde like word play. Nearly every line in this film is quotable. The characters speak with a profound sense of purpose that makes dinner parties feel like war rooms, and theatre stages feel like presidential podiums.

This is a great movie as a whole. But as a literary work it is a masterpiece that should be experienced by everyone.

#27 High Noon

“People gotta talk themselves into law and order before they do anything about it. Maybe because down deep they don’t care. They just don’t care.”
Martin Howe

Fred Zinnemann’s real time western is labeled a western for people who don’t like westerns. This could not be a more apt review. The film substitutes gunfights for verbal battles while exploring the psychology of an apathetic nation. The only problem is that it is not that entertaining.

The film focuses (almost exclusively) on Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper), a tough as nails Marshall that is retiring on his wedding day in order to appease his wife (Grace Kelly).

But when Frank Miller, a notorious outlaw that Kane had sent to the hangman’s gallows 5 years ago, is granted parole, Will Kane will have to put his life, and his marriage on the line if he wants to save his town.

Kane quickly devises a plan to round up a posse of townspeople, make them honorary deputies, and lead an assault on Miller and his three henchmen. The only problem with this plan is that no one in town wants to stand with Kane and fight.

Everyone seems to have his own reason for not wanting to fight. Some are afraid, others (selfish people I think they’re called) would like to see a criminal like Miller in town, and some are just simply apathetic.

Ultimately Kane is forced to face the group of four outlaws by himself if he wants to save his town and create a fresh start for himself and his wife.

The performances are all fine. Gary Cooper is an engaging lead, and Grace Kelly held her own in her feature film debut, yet there is nothing outstanding about them. Their chemistry was minimal at best (perhaps this is due to a real life affair that the two engaged in while filming), and the story wasn’t torrid enough to carry these performances.

The score, which has received quite a bit of critical acclaim, underscored the mood of the film. It was overplayed and because of this whenever it intruded on scenes (usually dramatic highpoints) it felt cliché and laughable.

This film is definitely not a popcorn flic. It progresses slowly and there is very little clever banter to keep the viewer engaged and, with the exception of the last eight minutes, there is very little action.

The film is not a total waste though. It may not exist for my entertainment but there is a crowd that will appreciate it. More importantly though, this film was not made to be a piece of entertainment, it was made to make a statement.

To understand the importance of this film you must understand the time in which it was made.

After World War II a drastic change took hold of the United States. The Soviet Union was no longer an ally, they were now the enemy. This transition brought with it fear and propaganda against all things red. One of the leaders in this fight was the House Un-American Activities Committee, a group that blacklisted people whose attitudes were deemed to be “Un-American” or “Communistic.”

This film is a direct response, and an allegorical outcry, against the apathy, and acceptance, displayed by Hollywood towards this movement. Zinnemann was clearly tired of propaganda trumping reason and he showed it in this film.

Timelessness was cast aside in favour of timeliness in this film, something that the film recognizes by playing out in real time. For this reason it is not the most entertaining picture for modern audiences. Still, its historical importance, and not just in the film industry, cannot be disputed.

For more info on the House Un-American Activities Community click here.

#26 Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

“You see, boys forget what their country means by just reading The Land of the Free in history books. Then they get to be men they forget even more. Liberty’s too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say: I’m free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn’t, I can, and my children will. Boys ought to grow up remembering that.”
Jefferson Smith

Frank Capra and James Stewart team up to bring the world Mr Smith Goes to Washington.

When an unnamed state’s senator (Montana) dies unexpectedly, the remaining senator and governor devise a plan to get Jefferson Smith (James Stewert), a popular leader of the boy rangers (boy scouts), elected to senate hoping that his small town mentality will allow them to manipulate him into voting however they want him to on various bills.

Mr. Smith quickly makes an impression in Washington when his overqualified secretary Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), decides that she is tired of wasting her talents baby-sitting an under-qualified senator. She decides to ambush Smith with a gaggle of reporters in exchange for a nice little bribe.

Mr. Smith, who is unused to dealing with the media, is manhandled by the various members of the press and is represented negatively during his first day at the senate.

Smith immediately begins a one man wrecking crew to seek physical vengeance for the acts that the various journalists have committed against him. This leads Smith into a bar that is predominantly filled with members of the press. They quickly end his rampage by pointing out that, while they may have taken advantage of him, this is only an indication of how unqualified he is for the job. They even suggest to him that his inexperience is why he was elected.

Smith is immediately humbled. He confronts his fellow senator, Joseph Paine (Claude Rains), who, in an attempt to distract Smith, suggest that he work on proposing a new bill as a way of showing his experience.

Smith retains the help of his overqualified assistant and immediately begins work on a bill that would see a national camp opened, and paid for, by the boys of America. But when his plans interfere with a bill that Paine had already submitted, Smith runs into problems.

It seems that the bill that Paine has submitted is not exactly on the up-and-up, he, along with the State’s governor, stand to make quite a bit of money off of it.

Smith discovers this, and is about to bring the transgression before senate, but before he can Paine forges several documents and discredits Smith as a senator guilty of graft.

The senate quickly becomes a battleground between Smith and Paine that threatens to tear apart the senate. It is Smith, integrity, and the truth, in a battle against Paine, the governor, and miles of red tape, in a battle that will decide whether lies or truth will rule the senate.

This movie was tagged as Capra’s greatest work when it was released, and for good reason. Capra displayed his skill with a surgeon’s precision. He lets the film develop at it’s own pace and this is so important. The start of the film, which could have been unwatchable had it not been for the genuine performance of Stewert, sets the pace of the film perfectly. As the Story progresses, so too does the pace, eventually leading to a climactic end that gives the viewer very little time to react to what has happened and demands to be thought about long after the credits have rolled.

As skilled of a director as Capra was, this movie would not have been possible without the performance of James Stewert. While the film was slow his nice-guy demeanour and stuttering voice keep the viewer glued to the film. When the film picks up, little exists besides what is on the screen.

This is the truly great thing that the film accomplishes. While it is being viewed it is an exercise in external minimalism. The problems of the world seem to disappear, and the only two things that matter are the misplaced hair falling on James Stewert’s sweaty forehead and his ever-increasing raspy voice.

When the film is over though, so to is its experiment with minimalism. It holds a magnifying glass to the corruption and greed that plague the political landscape. One of the senators of Montana walked out of this film’s premier because he felt it negatively portrayed his profession. Adversely, the film was banned by many European dictatorships for fear that it would show the affective nature of democracy.

This film was controversial, and probably still should be, but it is also an entertaining ride. It is hard not to get captured in the idealism of the naïve Jefferson Smith, and it is even harder not to recognize the importance of his character, just as it is hard not to recognize the importance of this film.

I’m going to end on another quote by Mr. Smith…

“Just get up off the ground, that’s all I ask. Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won’t just see scenery; you’ll see the whole parade of what Man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so’s he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see. There’s no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties. And, uh, if that’s what the grownups have done with this world that was given to them, then we’d better get those boys’ camps started fast and see what the kids can do. And it’s not too late, because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you, or me, or anything else. Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again!”

#25 To Kill A Mockingbird

“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Atticus Finch

If there’s one thing that American writers do well it is to tell their story in an almost autobiographical style, change people’s names, and call it fiction. Harper Lee is no exception. Thankfully, some things happened in her life that were more entertaining than painting a fence (Why Twain…why?). With that hang up aside, I did actually enjoy this film.

Scout Finch (Mary Badham) is a six-year-old girl who is just about to discover the word in all its both horrific, and redeeming qualities. It is the last summer before she is to attend school, and, though her life is quite carefree, it is quickly becoming apparent that the next year of her life will change her forever.

When Scout’s father Atticus (Gregory Peck) is asked to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man who has been accused of rape, the world begins to close in quickly on Scout. She is now forced to deal with the horrors of the world that had previously eluded her.

This is quite a shock to Scout and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford). Previously, the darkest thing that had existed in their world was Arthur “Boo” Radley (Robert Duvall), an intellectually stunted shut-in neighbor whose reputation in the neighborhood had garnered much scandal.

As the trial draws closer, hostility towards the Finch family reaches a boiling point. Prejudice quickly blinds the town of Monroeville, and Atticus quickly assumes the role of the town pariah.

As the trial moves on two things become clear: Tom is not guilty of the crime that he has been accused of, and it does not matter. It is up to Atticus, the American Film Institute’s all time greatest hero, to prove Tom’s innocence at all costs.

The film is a delight to watch. Scout, is an engaging protagonist. Discovering depression-era Alabama through the eyes of an optimistic six-year-old is an effective tool that creates a genuine mood of discovery. This was aided by the superb performance of Mary Badham who, with excellent direction, was able to portray Lee’s fictional counterpart in a way that was deserving of her Oscar nod.

Nothing can be said about the acting in this film though without addressing Gregory Peck. Much like Bogart in Casablanca, or Brando in On The Waterfront, Peck has a certain indefinable quality about him in this film. It is nearly impossible to look away from him whenever he is on the screen.

It is nearly impossible not to feel nostalgic as Scout and Jem run out to greet Atticus when he returns from work, or are scolded for being obviously wrong, perhaps this is due to the fact that Peck reminds me of my own dad (something that Lee, myself, and quite a few other people have in common).

By far the most intriguing aspect of this film is Atticus’ integrity. The fact that he defended a man that no one else would is a testament to this, but there are so many other examples.

When Atticus “takes care” of a mad dog, any notion of that his children had about him being too old for action was eradicated, but this is not what earned him their respect. When a man spits in Atticus’s face, Atticus does not retaliate, he simply wipes his face, and walks away. This is not an indication of his cowardice though. Instead it is a beacon of his strength. But Atticus is not done teaching his children lessons there.

Atticus does not simply tell his children what to do. He lives in a way that he expects his children to, and if there is any lesson that needs to be learned by today’s society from this film, it is that. When Scout asks Atticus why he is defending Tom when everyone else says it is wrong Atticus responds with a simple answer. He tells her that if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be able to hold his head up high, or tell her and Jem not to do anything.

Atticus’s complete lack of hypocrisy, and his stern integrity, is what make him the greatest hero in American film history.

The story is well known, and important, today, yesterday, and tomorrow. It is not the most entertaining film, but the characters are engaging enough to keep the attention of the viewer. The titular metaphor…I don’t think it needs to be explained.  And the writing, with a few not-so-important omissions, remains quite true to the novel. It is definitely well one and deserves to be watched by everyone.

#24 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

You could be happy here, I could take care of you. I wouldn’t let anybody hurt you. We could grow up together, E.T.
Elliot

Steven Spielberg’s imagination inspiring, out of this world, sci-fi fantasy about a marauding alien, is a movie that should be watched by everyone as a child.

When a group of marauding aliens lands on earth, only to take off later that night, they leave behind one of their own.

This alien, who has a sweet spot for Reace’s pieces, eventually stumbles upon a young boy named Elliot (Henry Thomas). Fearing that the alien will be lobotomized or experimented upon (the natural fear of any ten-year-old boy), Elliot decides to keep the alien as a pet and give it the name “E.T.”

E.T. quickly begins to mimic Elliot’s actions, and the two form a bond that quickly becomes the most important thing in young Elliot’s life.

As Elliot and E.T.’s relationship builds they start to form a psychic link. This is amusing at first, but when E.T.’s health takes a turn for the worse it becomes problematic for Elliot. He to begins to suffer from whatever it is that is ailing his alien friend.

To make matters worse, the government has discovered E.T.. If E.T. is ever going to get home he has to rely on Elliot to get him to the rendezvous spot that he has signaled the other aliens to pick him up at.

Spielberg’s vision for this film was unique. Most of the shots in the film are from the eye level of a child, more specifically Elliot (A technique that was later used in the Swedish Vampire hit, Let the Right One In). This is so effective because it allows adults a perspective change, and creates a feeling of familiarity for children. The affect that this has on the viewer is unsettling.

Because most viewers are used to witnessing a film shot at an adult’s eye level the change in perspective forces the viewer to view the world differently. It creates an atmosphere that makes the real world feel like a fantasy world. This allows the imagination to accept what it is seeing without question, much like a child accepts whatever it sees.

Another technique Spielberg used was to shoot the movie chronologically. This obviously had no impact on the viewer, but it allowed the child actors to have stellar performances. Because their own relationship to the film was coming to an end, the emotions that the children portray are all genuine emotions. This is a perfect example of what a good director is able to do in order to get the best performance out of his (or her) actors.

This film is beautiful, and heartbreaking. When E.T. joins Elliot’s family he brings with him so much. The relationship between Elliot and his siblings was rocky at best as the film opened, but E.T., much like he was able to bring plants into full bloom, was able to bring out the best in everyone who came in to contact with him.

It could be argued that E.T. was meant to represent God, and that Elliot represents Jesus. This argument could come from the separation of the psychic Elliot felt as E.T. was dieing; this would be a messy metaphor though. Furthermore it is one that Spielberg, whose mother is a strong subscriber to the Jewish faith, has refuted adamantly (he has joked that she would disown him if this were the case). Still though, the theme of sacrifice that both Elliot and E.T. display for each other is a beautiful one.

This film was not just an emotional journey though, it was so much more than that.

When E.T. is forced to “go home,” Elliot is forced to confront the residual emotional damage that his absent father had left him with. This time however, he is aiding the departure. As much as he loves E.T., Elliot knows that he has to let him go. And in doing this Elliot is able to overcome the abandonment issues that his father had developed in him.

This is a very important theme to deal with, especially because of the time. In 1982 the marriage rate in the United States was half of what it was in the late fifties and early sixties. What was worse though was that the divorce rate had more than doubled. This film served as a beacon for all those who had been affected by this increase. It displayed the hurt that separated parents could cause their children, but also showed that there was hope.

This film is absolutely delightful and should be watched by all children. I saw it as a child and, despite the fact that it creeped me out (something about the boy being controlled by E.T. set me on edge) I loved this film. And I still do.

“E.T. phone home”

-E.T. (I couldn’t not use this quote)


#23 The Grapes Of Wrath

“Well, maybe it’s like Casy says. A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody, then…Then it don’t matter. I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.”
Tom Joad

John Ford brilliantly brings to life Steinbeck’s epic about the formation of unions and the exodus of Oklahoma farmers to California during America’s Great Depression.

When Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) is released from prison, after being paroled following a murder of self defence, all he wants to do is rejoin his family. But when he arrives home his family is no where to be found. They have, along with most of the families in the area, been pushed off their land by various faceless corporations that are able to do the job of hundreds of men with just a handful of tractors.

When Tom finds out that his family is currently staying at his uncle’s farm he wastes no time to reunite with them. Sadly their reunion is short lived. As soon as Tom arrives on the farm his family is once again told that they must evacuate. The group sees only one option, they must head west and search for work in the land of milk and honey, California.

The family immediately begins their travels to California with nothing more than a hundred and fifty dollars and a jalopy truck.

Along the way, the family is forced to deal with many hardships. The death of their two most elderly members, along with dwindling funds, nearly breaks the family’s spirit. But the family pushes on and finally makes it into their proverbial “promised land.”

After finally making it to California it would seem like all should be good for the Joad family. This makes the harsh realization that life in the west is not much better than it was in the mid-west even more difficult to bear.

Forced into a transient camp the Joad’s are confronted with the harsh reality of true poverty, overbearing employers, and police corruption. The camp is eventually burnt down and the Joad’s are forced out on to the road again.

When it appears that all hope is lost for the Joads a miracle happens, they are offered work. A peach ranch’s workers had recently gone on strike when their wages were cut by fifty percent, and the Joads, are offered the job as scabs. But when Tom kills a corrupt cop, again in self defence, and their wages are cut, the Joads are forced to flee once again.

Once again the Joad’s find themselves on the brink of oblivion. Their Jalopy runs out of gas, and their pockets have run out of money. They decide that their only option is to pull into the next camp they find and hope for the best. This is the first bit of good luck they run into. The camp they stumble upon happens to be one of the only camps that is free from police corruption. The camp will allow them to work to earn their keep, and best of all, it will allow them to retain some sense of dignity.

The family resides happily in this camp until Tom sees police officers checking the licence plates of all the trucks. It appears that they are on the hunt for Tom. Tom is again forced to flee, but develops a new resolve. He intends to unify the workers of California against the oppressive force that is America’s top one percent.

This film is important for so many reasons. During its release in 1940, the film’s sympathy for the lower-class, along with its disdain for corporate ruthlessness, could not have been more topical. But this is why the film was great. The film is great because its themes are universal. It holds a mirror to the ideal of capitalism, and reveals just how ugly it can become.

The socialist undertones of this movie cannot be ignored. The one moment of peace that the family receives is while they are living in a camp that requires all its citizens to do their part to keep the place clean and working efficiently. That being said, this movie was not a call to communism, socialism, or any political ideology at all. It was instead, a “dear John” letter to the American dream of capitalism.

The Joad family is the picture of the American dream. They work hard for their food, their land, even the air that they breath. And they thought that this was what America stood for. This was capitalism at its finest, people who are willing to work hard, are able to make a good life for themselves. Unfortunately for the Joads, and everyone in the quickly dwindling middle-class, the American dream came true, Capitalism as an ideal came to fruition. This meant that the few, the hardest working, the smartest, or perhaps even the luckiest, were able to use the wealth they already had to create more for themselves, while forcing the “simpler” members of society into the dust that they are all to willing to till.

Capitalism is perhaps the world’s first ideal to ever be completely realized in a way that is uncompromising. And the result of this was, and is, disastrous. This does not mean that Capitalism as an idea is bad, or that any other ideology is better. Steinbeck and Ford were simply pointing out the flaws that they saw in society, and they were given a lot of flaws to work with.

This film works because nothing is overdone. The acting is well done, Henry Ford is certainly an engaging leading man, but it was not overly dramatic. Likewise, the direction was phenomenal, but the film was not overshot, or over paced. The film is an exercise in minimalism and it did well to be this way. Nothing took away from what was truly important about this film, and that was the story. The actors told Steinbeck’s story, Ford allowed them to, and the screenwriter (Nunnally Johnston) trimmed Steinbeck’s story down to its most basic form, eliminating the many layers of carbon Steinbeck had created, to reveal the diamond that is at the heart of this story.

#22 Some Like It Hot

“Well, nobody’s perfect.”
Osgood Fielding III

Back before White Chicks, Sorority Boys, Juwanna Man, To Wong Foo, Mrs. Doubtfire and every teen sit-com from the 90’s, there was Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder’s gender-bending rom-com starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe.

When Joe and Jerry (Curtis and Lemmon respectively) witness a mob hit they know they have to leave town, the only problem is, they are flat broke. So when the opportunity arises to take a job playing for a band in Florida they are all to happy to take the free ticket out of town. There’s just one problem, the band is for girls only. Not to be held down by such trivial matters Joe and Jerry don wigs and become Josephine and Daphny.

Shortly after joining the band, both Joe and Jerry discover the enchanting Sugar (Monroe), the band’s singer and ukelele player. Jerry immediately finds it difficult to hide his attraction to Sugar, and has to be reminded several times by Joe that he is a girl. But the tables are quickly turned when Sugar reveals that she has always had a thing for guys who play the saxophone, she just “dumb that way.” This just happens to be Joe’s instrument, and the affect that this knowledge has on him is drastic. At this point the film almost instantly switches from focusing on Jerry, to focusing on Joe.

When the band finally arrives in Florida, Sugar is suddenly best friends with Joe’s alter-ego, Josephine. This is not good enough for Joe though. Joe wants more than friendship from Sugar so he creates yet another alter-ego, a young millionaire who is air to the Shell oil fortune. Immediately the connection he builds with Sugar is strong. Using the intimate details that he learned through intimate feminine discussions, Joe is able to create a perfect love interest for Sugar.

Meanwhile Jerry, who adapts to life as a woman better than Jerry, gets duped into escorting a young millionaire who is head-over-heals in love with Daphne.

Life goes quite well for Joe and Jerry. Getting paid to play their instruments while recieving free room and board is exactly what they expected out of their trip to Florida. But when the mobsters that forced them to flee Chicago show up in Florida, Joe and Jerry’s romantic, financial, and physical well being all come under fire.

Everything about this film is well done. Billy Wilder, making his second appearance on this list, was like the conductor of a well-tuned orchestra. The mood of this film changes effortlessly to suit each act and the result is a film that is multi-dimensional without being emotionally taxing.

This film is a perfect example of what good actors can do when they are given a good director. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon could have easily over played their roles, but they didn’t. Their performances were tactful, and, unlike most actors who go drag for a role, never opted for the ridiculous in search of a laugh.

Not to be out done was the one and only Marilyn Monroe. Monroe is positively delightful in this film. Any one who does not understand why she was the “it” girl must watch this movie. She easily wins over the heart of the audience, and I dare you not to fall in love with her.

This film works because it blends comedy, drama, and even action effortlessly. It virtually created a genre (if you ignore the fact that it was based on a German film), and best of all, it was pure entertainment. It completely defies while remaining an example of what a movie that doesn’t want to settle for being a comedy, romance, or drama, can be.

#21 Chinatown

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”                                                                                                                                                                   Walsh

Roman Polanski’s noir mystery thriller, Chinatown, outreaches its grasp. Polanski is a visionary, visually at least, but the story, as well as its progression, just come up short.

When private detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by a woman to catch her husband in the act of adultery, he thinks it will be just another routine case. However, when Jake finds out that the woman who hired him is an imposter, and that the man he was hired to photograph is dead, he finds himself involved in a murder case that involves incest, and corruption.

While on this murder case Jake discovers something shocking about the city’s water supply. It seems that the water supply for the city is being withheld, and outsourced. This stands to make some very dangerous men, very rich. Jake unfortunately stumbles upon this plan and is, in turn, pursued by these men.

Along the way he picks up the woman who he had originally thought had hired him, the recently widowed Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), and a pseudo romance ensues.

Polanski achieved exactly what he attempted to with this film, and from that perspective I guess it is a success. But successfully achieving a goal is not a particularly great accomplishment by itself.

The film tells its story eloquently enough, but the story it is telling is not really all that important. Nothing about this film left an impacting imprint on me, and if it were simply a dose of escapism that would be fine, but that was not what this film was. It was never able to fully engage me as a viewer, and I was never able to care about any of the characters (even one that was that was a victim of incest).

I don’t know what to say. Whenever I write anything bad about any film on this list I get negative feedback. The truth of the matter is that every film on this list is a good film. There are 1,500 artists, film industry execs, and critics that are willing to back that up. Fortunately this is my blog, and my opinion is the only one that really matters. This is a critique of opinion, not artistic merit, and Chinatown receives a negative critique.

#20 It’s a Wonderful Life

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
Clarence

Frank Capra’s tale of the affect that everyone has on the people around them is a timeless Christmas classic that begs to be rediscovered by every generation.

This film observes the life of George Bailey (James Stewart), a good and selfless man who has put his life on hold for the good of his town. He had many dreams for his life that he had to sacrifice in order to prevent the takeover of his town by Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore), a relentless man who is obsessed with the complete ownership of Bedford Falls.

George is so important to the town because his building and loan company is the only thing that stands in Mr. Potter’s way. But when George’s 8,000-dollar deposit goes missing, George not only faces the possibility of serving jail time, but also the complete collapse of his company. This would allow Mr. Potter to finally take over the town.

Stricken with grief George decides that his family, and his town, would be better off without him. George brings himself to the town bridge, and is about to end his life, but he is visited by an angel.

This angel (Clarence, played by Henry Travers) offers George a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: the ability to see what his life would be like if he had never been born.

The result is a trip down memory lane for George as Clarence leads him through the various deeds in his life that have benefited those around him.

Frank Capra’s dedication to this film was obvious. Everything about this film was put together meticulously in order to create a believable town, as well as believable characters to inhabit it.

Capra’s vision of the town of Bedford Falls is one of the most complete creations of any society on screen (perhaps with the exception of Kevin Smith’s “Askewniverse”). Characters had relationships that were son intertwined it would seem that they were real people that Capra was filming.

Perhaps it is due to the genius mechanism of George re-experiencing the prior events of his life, but nothing feels forced in this film. Nothing is said for the benefit of the viewer. This adds to Copra’s complete vision of the characters. Because there is no one needlessly explaining anything to the viewer, the reality of the characters remains firmly intact.

It is unclear as to how Capra, along with the various credited and un-credited writers, was able to create such a clear vision in this film, but whatever he did, he did it well.

Something that definitely didn’t hurt this sense of realism was the superb performance of James Stewart. This was his first performance after serving in world war two and, though he thought it was too soon for him to be making a film, the affect the war had in his performance was clearly beneficial. That is not meant to sound glib, but it is worth speculating that the scenes of overwhelming emotion would not have been as powerful had he not been in this emotional state.

This film looks good, sounds good, and is good. It deals with themes that are both universal, and timeless. More importantly, it doesn’t fall into the trap of making every decision George made into a positive one. So often films like this go too far in their search for inspiration. They toy with the notion that everything happens for the benefit of everyone. This film manages to not give off this sugar-coated sense of optimism, while simultaneously creating a sense of inspiration for the viewer.

Some people will feel that this movie has become a cliché of itself. After all, nearly every cartoon, sit-com, and family drama has copied the plot of this film at least once. But this should serve as nothing more than a testament as to how important this film is to the industry.

So, if you watch this film for the first time and bells are going off due to how familiar it seems just smile, cause every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.