Recently Seen Films List, Number One

September 30, 2017

From  Trouble in Paradise

Recently seen films, this is the first in an occasional series.  These are some of my favorite films that I’ve seen in the last year, in 2017 and late 2016.  I watch a lot of movies, on DVD, on VHS, on Blu-ray and at the show.

Number One: The Ernst Lubitsch film “Trouble in Paradise” is a pre-code classic, funny and romantic.  I love his work and this is one of my favorites.  Pictured above: Kay Francis, Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins.

Number Two: “Deadline U.S.A.” 1952. Richard Brooks directed, it starred Humphrey Bogart and featured Kim Hunter, Paul Stewart, Jim Backus, Ed Begley and more.  Over 60 years ago, it predicted the threat to the newspaper industry via the battle over greed/self-interest versus altruism aka “call to public service.”

Number Three: Ernst Lubitsch’s “To Be or Not To Be” starring, in her last role, Carole Lombard, Jack Benny and others. I’ve seen this many times. It’s an old favorite.

Number Four: “Frankenstein” from 1931. Sure “Bride of Frankenstein” was even better, but this was a strong film. Boris Karloff!

Number Five: “The Big Combo” from 1955. Directed by Joseph H. Lewis. Photography by John Alton.

“I know how you feel.”

“Nobody knows how another person feels.”

Number Six: “Gun Crazy” from 1949. Directed by Joseph H. Lewis.  This is a great film noir following a crime spree by a young couple who really love their guns.

“Everything in these forty-eight state hurts me.”

Number Seven: “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” Directed by Don Siegel. 1956, with Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter.  It all came true!  A classic.

Number Seven: “The Manchurian Candidate” from 1962. Directed by John Frankenheimer. With Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh and Frank Sinatra. Script by George Axelrod.  Music by David Amram.

I’ve been wanting to see this again all year! A precursor to real-life political dystopia, with connections to the blacklist/ witch hunts.  A unique film

Number Eight: “Yankee Doodle Dandy” from 1942.  Directed by Michael Curtiz with James Cagney, Walter Huston, Joan Leslie and others.

Cagney is just amazing in this.  It’s too bad that he only made a few “song and dance movies.”  In the DVD bonus feature they noted that one reason that he wanted to make a patriotic film was that he was about to be investigated for being too liberal.  It was good to be patriotic in those early days of World War Two.  For personal reasons, it will be impossible to watch this movie soon, so I wanted to see it while I still could.

Number Nine: “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words” a 2015 Swedish documentary film about Ingrid Bergman, directed by Stig Björkman.  It was a well done work including home movies and quotes from her writings. She came pretty close to marrying photographer Robert Capa.  She lived a good yet complicated life and she loved acting.

Number Ten: “Chimes at Midnight” from 1965, directed by and starring Orson Welles as Falstaff. A great one! I got to see it onscreen 3 times, once years ago. It’s great to have a restored version available on “home video.’  It includes a great battle scene, Shakespeare!

With John Gielgud, Keith Baxter, Margaret Rutherford, Jeanne Moreau and others.

Number Eleven: “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” from 1964.  Directed by Stanley Kubrick.  With Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden and Slim Pickens.  This was part of my 2017 dystopian film festival. I think that it holds up well with Scott and Sellers especially funny.

Number Twelve: “Playtime” directed by Jacques Tati from 1967, fifty years ago.

This is a big favorite.  I wish I could see it in a theatre with a big screen.  Meanwhile, I’ll try to see 3 feet from the TV screen and pay close attention.

Number Thirteen: “Duck Soup” directed by Leo McCarey, from 1933.  It stars the four Marx Brothers: Groucho, Harpo, Chico and sometimes Zeppo.  It’s funny as can be and is all too timely.  Harpo’s always snipping things with scissors and pulling a fiery blow torch from beneath his coat.  It’s an anti-war musical of sorts, drunk on the absurdity of politics and the politics of the absurd.

Number Fourteen: “The Wobblies” from 1979. In this documentary filmmakers Stewart Bird and Deborah Shaffer profile the International Workers of the World and unionization. There’s a nice use of archival footage (including animation) and interviews with people who were around in the 1910’s.…/documentary/…/wobblies.php

Number Fifteen:  “Bayou Maharajah” directed by Lily Keber, from 2013.  I watched this last week, on Mardi Gras Day.  This is a good documentary about the amazing James Booker who Dr. John called “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.”  I started getting into his music a few years ago and I enjoyed this tribute.

Number Sixteen: “F for Fake” by Orson Welles, from 1972.  This was Orson Welles’ last completed feature film.  It’s a personal favorite.  I’ve seen it many times onscreen and on “home video.”  It’s experimental, fun and it captures a lot of Welles’ personality.

“I started at the top and have been working my way down ever since.”  Orson Welles

Recently seen films, Number Seventeen: “Vietnam: A Television History” A 13-hour history of the Vietnam War from 1983.  I watched it again (on library VHS tapes) in preparation for the new long, long Ken Burns “Vietnam War” film, due in September.

Recently seen films, Number Eighteen: “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday” from 1953.  I usually watch this every year, sometime in the late Summer.  Jacques Tati is always wonderful and this is one of his best films.


From  “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday”

Movies for Troubled Times in the United States of America

February 28, 2017


What should I call this?  Movies for a Drowning America?  Imagined Hell meets real Hell?  When dystopian visions make the newspapers seem less frightening?  I struggle to remain less cynical and more active.  Still, these films give me some insight, hope and maybe a few laughs.  I’ll keep adding to this over the next few years.

  1. Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb from 1964, directed by Stanley Kubrick
  2. Duck Soup from 1933 directed by Leo McCarey
  3. The Trial  from 1962, directed by Orson Welles
  4. A Face in the Crowd from 1957, directed by Elia Kazan
  5. The Manchurian Candidate from 1962, directed by John Frankenheimer
  6. All the King’s Men from 1949, directed by Robert Rossen
  7. They Live from 1988 directed by John Carpenter

Classic Silent Movies and Film Noir in Detroit

September 23, 2016

I love the Detroit Film Theatre and the Redford Theatre.

But why did they have to schedule the most essential programs on their current schedules on the same weekend?

For the true cineaste or film fanatic, silent films and film noir are both essential viewing.

The Alloy Orchestra are on their 25th anniversary tour!  They’ve been performing at the Detroit Film Theatre for many years.

My pick hits are Variety from 1925 and The Man with A Movie Camera from 1929.  They’re both films that I’ve seen less often than the other two. Metropolis is always great to see.  L’inhumaine is also excellent.  I’ve seen it with the Alloy Orchestra score on “home video.” They’re showing it while I’m at work, so that’s out.  I’ll get to what I can.

From the 1925 film "Variety"

From the 1925 film “Variety”

There’s also the film noir festival at the Redford Theatre.  It’s going by the moniker of Noir City.  There are three well-known films The Killers, Lady from Shanghai and Double Indemnity. There’s one well-known but hard to see film 99 River Street.  Then there are two rescued obscurities, The Prowler and Woman on the Run. Then, as a late night screening, they’re showing Blue Velvet.  I’d love to see any or all of these, except perhaps Blue Velvet.  This is only because I’ve seen it onscreen recently.  I’ll get to what I can.

It’s an embarrassment of riches!  It never fails.  Things are dead for weeks, then there are a whole group of great things going on at the same time.

This time though, if you love “classic film” get out and check it out.


My Summer 2016 Film Festival

August 31, 2016

I’ve seen a lot of wonderful cinema this Summer, as usual.  I watch a lot of animation, documentaries, silent films and avant-garde/ experimental films.

Thanks to the Detroit Film Theatre, Cinema Detroit, the Detroit Public Library, Netflix and too, to the library where I work.

The Summer included the Cinetopia film festival, in early June.  I got to 4 or 5 films there, all documentaries I think.  I saw Leonard Maltin introduce an animation program at the Redford Theatre.

Special studies included the silent social drama films of Cecil B. Demille.

I saw a lot of films directed by John Cassavetes. Favorites included Shadows, Faces and Love  Streams.  I also saw Elaine May’s Mikey and Nicky, which is “related material.”  I also saw a good group of films by Norman McLaren, and Robert Bresson.

I caught documentary films about Sebastião Salgado, Miles Davis, Harvey Milk, Al Green, Eva Hesse and Ousmane Sembène.  I also enjoyed The New Rijksmuseum, a 2014 film about the decade long renovations at Amsterdam’s great art museum.

I also saw some films about the Holocaust including A Film Unfinished and Night and Fog.

I visited the work of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Luis Buñuel, Busby Berkeley, James Cagney, Alfred Hitchcock, Douglas Fairbanks, Mack Sennett and others

Then there are the short films of Charles and Ray Eames.  Most of these were new to me. Some of them are very interesting and even amazing.

I also caught a good group of early Fritz Lang films.  I saw mostly silent works including Spies, Destiny (the restored version was screened at the  Detroit Film Theatre) and the Dr. Mabuse films.

FritzLang (c) Österreichisches Filmmuseum


Frame Grabs

January 31, 2016

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You can get interesting images by hitting the pause button on your video and shooting a photo off of the television screen.  This is James Cagney from City for Conquest.

asDec 13 and Jan 14 007.JPG

This is from an old cartoon, obviously.  Sometimes you get those phantom  bars of light.  The last one is from an avant-garde film.  I thinks it’s by the lettrist Jean Isadore Issou.

This isn’t the best post for my return to my cinema blog, but I guess I need to get my feet wet before I plunge back in.

asDec 13 and Jan 14 006too


My Year in Cinema

December 31, 2014

In 2014, Luis Buñuel, Patricio Guzmán, Budd Boetticher, Ernst Lubitsch, Jan Švankmajer and Shohei Imamura are some of the film directors whose work I watched the most.

As usual though, I cast a wide net.  I love Cinema  and I watch a lot of it.  To me, Documentaries, Silent Films, Animation, Classic Films, International Films and Experimental Films are all good.  I still watch VHS tapes and DVDs.  I rarely watch film on the computer though that could change.  There’s some rare stuff out there.

I saw a lot of early television.  This included work by Ernie Kovacs, Jonathan Winters and Sid Caesar.  I also watched pretty much every episode of The Twilight Zone!  Rod Serling’s TV show ran from late 1959 to 1964.

I read some books connected with the cinema.  Two of my favorites were J. Hoberman’s history of the films of the Cold War Era, An Army of Phantoms and too his The Dream Life, on the films of the 1960s.

I try to get out and see movies on the screen.  I didn’t make it out to the mainstream films much, though there were releases out that I’d like to see.  I only made it to a commercial movie theatre once all year!  That’s a first. I saw the documentary on photographer Vivian Maier at the Main in Royal Oak.  So even that wasn’t really a mainstream movie house.

I did get to my neighborhood theatres, the Detroit Film Theatre and Cinema Detroit.  The Film Theatre celebrated their 40th anniversary.  I was going to put on an exhibition dedicated to this, but they closed for 3 or 4 months due to repairs. I hope to mount this exhibit in the future.  I’ll give them a rain check.

My major complaint is that they show a lot of the best films one time only.  Unfortunately, these showings are early in the day on Saturdays.  I wish they’d show some of these on Sundays as well, even if they needed to do so in the smaller auditorium.  I have to work every Saturday and have to miss all of these films, that’s disappointing.  I have to miss all but one of the Frederic Wiseman films they’ll be showing next year.  Oh well.

That said, I loved seeing the documentaries The Great Flood, Deep City, Birth of the Miami Sound, The Land of the Unjust and Let the Fire Burn.  They had excellent live music backing silent films such as The Yellow Ticket, The Golem and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger.  Some of these were part of the Cinetopia festival.  There was also a Polish film festival which will continue in 2015.  I saw three of those of which my favorite was The Saragossa Manuscript.

Still, they’re great, and I’m glad they’re in walking distance.  Ditto Cinema Detroit , though it’s a longer walk. The Redford Theatre also shows good movies.  Usually I’m interested in seeing about half of their schedule.  I try to get to three or four films a year there.  I especially enjoyed their recent animation program.

I’ll try to get out to the mainstream movie theatres in 2015.  Keep watching!

The Detroit Film Theatre:

Cinema Detroit:

The Redford Theatre:

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema:

Film History News:

Some who died in 2014:


A Letter from Lillian Gish

February 22, 2014


In the 1970’s I wrote to the great actress Lillian Gish and she actually replied!  My method was to send a S.A.S.E. (a self-addressed stamped envelope) containing blank index cards.  This worked well, leading to several amazing notes and autographs.  I wish I’d known about acid free paper then.  Some of them are already yellowing.  When I figure out the exact year, I’ll add that information here.  The notes were separated from their envelope and I didn’t want to write on the cards.

This was on one side of the cards:


Then on the other side of the card was this handwritten message:



I love her handwriting.  A transcription:

All my thanks also for your interesting letter.  The world does not know of the power of the silent film with great music and great themes, like Ghandi (Gandi), Napoleon, Birth of a Nation.  We have lived through the stone age-the bronze age-the age of the printing press-Now the film and most powerful of all It is the universal age the Bible tells us will end wars and bring about the Millennium-It is still in its babyhood.  Look how long it took the printing press-this will take longer to make the world One.  So please don’t lose your interest. 

Ever gratefully

Lillian Gish


So please don’t lose your interest!  I love that.  She took time to write to a young fan.  The message has its real progressive even radical side too.  Can cinema help change the world?  Will the more recent digital/computer revolution also have positive repercussions?  Yes silent movies! Yes end wars and bring on the universal age, with one world all on the same page.  Is all of that still in its babyhood?

I love her work.  From The Wind to The Scarlet Letter to Broken Blossoms to Night of the Hunter, she had an amazing career.

A postscript:

D.W. Griffith did quite a few films.  For many of us “The Birth of a Nation” ruins all of the rest of his work.  I’m not that extreme about it but I won’t apologize for it.  For about twenty years, I’ve refused to watch it again.  That said, I think that he did make some solid films, both shorts and features.

Steven H. Scheuer’s TV Movie Almanac

October 31, 2013

TV movie

I think that this may have been the very first “dictionary style” entertainment guide-book. I’m not sure whether this was the very first one or the second.  I think that he put it out every year from 1958 to 1993.  That’s thirty-five years.

Leonard Maltin started his series ten years later in 1969.  Since then, film critics such as Roger Ebert and David Thomson have put out books of their reviews.  Since, there have been countless books of capsule reviews in both film and music.

I think that it started here.  He didn’t have the directors listed at first.  He did have the year, the actors and a star rating.

“The Fatal Mallet” or “Was Charlie Chaplin’s tramp in the IWW?”

September 28, 2013

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late sept 049

In the 1914 Charlie Chaplin comedy, The Fatal Mallet, the letters IWW are clearly written on the inside of this door.

They also seem to be written on the side of the building.  This refers to the The Industrial Workers of the World.  They were also known as the IWW or the Wobblies.  They’re a key American labor group and are still active today.  I’ve included links to the Wikopedia page for their history and to their current page for further information.

The same year that this film came out an important and revered Wobbly, Joe Hill, was accused of murder in Utah.  The next year he was executed.  He was a poet, songwriter, agitator and an amazing man.

They were quite radical yet also Utopian.  They believed in all the Unions working together to form “one big union.”  I’ll write more something about them someday.  I’ve read a lot about them and have a lot of respect for them.

Back in 1914, the IWW was really in the air.

When I first saw The Fatal Mallet, I did notice the IWW tags or graffiti.  They seem to be written in chalk.

Then earlier this month I read Simon Louvish’s biography Chaplin, the Tramp’s Odyssey.  In it, he mentioned the IWW connection with The Fatal Mallet several times.  I watched the film again, more closely.  It’s not a great one but it has its moments.   Mack Sennett, Mack Swain and Mabel Normand are in it too.

The idea of Charlie Chaplin as a Wobbly is quite appealing to me.   No one knows whether Chaplin or Sennett had anything to do with the IWW being part of the set decoration.  Yet everything we know of his Chaplin’s tramp indicates that it wouldn’t have been out of character for him to do so.

The IWW:

A review of the Simon Louvish book, Chaplin, the Tramp’s Odyssey which mentions the IWW scrawl:

Further books by Simon Louvish.  I’ve read his books on Mack Sennett, Mae West,  W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers:

This set has nearly all of Charlie Chaplin’s Keystone work.  It’s been well restored too.  The Fatal Mallet is included on disc two:

The Fatal Mallet on youtube.  Not the best print but here it is:

Kevin Brownlow and Abel Gance’s Napoleon

April 19, 2012

I saw the 1981 version of Abel Gance’s Napoleon, when it played Detroit in the early 1980’s.  I was surprised to see that Kevin Brownlow is still working on this film, trying to assemble a better restoration.  I’d like to see it again, in better quality than in my old VHS version.  There are recent articles on this, linked to below.

If you love silent films, you have to love Brownlow.  This is a follow-up to an earlier post that I wrote in 2009.  He’s done such great work, both alone and in collaboration with Patrick Stanbury and the late David Gill.

I’ve recently seen the Chaplin and Buster Keaton documentaries again, as well as  Garbo, and So Funny It Hurts: Buster Keaton and MGM.

It’s good to see he’s still at it.

A recent article by Martin Scorsese:

An older, 2010 story:

Kevin Brownlow’s 2011 Oscar:

I recently saw Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush and noticed he and Gill worked on that  restoration as well:

My earlier post on Kevin Brownlow: