Hiya folks! This past weekend was a regular bundle of celluloid surprises, the grab-baggin’est, most hectic ‘n eclectic batch of flicks I’ve squeezed into a couple days in a long time! Action, comedy, drama, suspense, and dance!
And as a service to the loyal readers of Rio Bravado, I’m gonna be rounding up five of these formidable flicks as my personal, certified recommendations. From me. To you. Let’s get this party started.
Faust | UFA | FW Murnau | 1926
I know, I know, you’re wondering what old man meat is doing watching such a sanctified cinema classic. Don’t I have better things to watch? The answer is: NO! I first watched this movie in my freshman year of college, and needless to say, I didn’t really enjoy it. I still had that whipper-snapper immunity to silent cinema while also paradoxically believing wholeheartedly in the greatness of anything and everything that trickled down into my possession from Jonathan Rosenbaum’s almighty obelisk-like list. And so I stumbled through this Murnau masterpiece while under-my-breath-ing the mantra that this is really and truly a classic no matter how much of it is soaring over my dumb head.
Well, on re-watch, I gotta say…this is one helluva fine flick! My advice to you neophytes: get lost in the spectacle and photosynthesize its sparkling rays. Be the Faust you wish to see in the world! Bust in on the Duchess’ palace like a cannonball and slink forlornly through the barren village outskirts where Mephisto extends a spindly hand. A plague unfurls from the devil’s cloak, the dead come back to life! Song and dance and subterfuge, and your sickly soul the centrifuge! Round and round it goes!
Jim Thorpe — All American | Warner Brothers | Michael Curtiz | 1951
For the diehard Lancaster-philes only. Too many early Burts seem to harvest him for his musculature and cast his acting talent to the wind. Of course, I love watching Burt just be a hulking behemoth for ninety minutes. The Crimson Pirate and The Flame and the Arrow are swashbuckled to the max and great fun to boot! Even if there is zero inkling of a hint of the performances that would come later.
Jim Thorpe is…a strange one. It’s a substandard rah-rah biopic set to the screeching tempo of Charles Bickford’s voice-over narration, with a full hour that’s just a victory montage in endless crescendo. Lancaster as the greatest athlete in the world is no-brainer casting, and half the appeal is just watching him throw javelins and hurdle obstacles and act tough. But there’s some interesting shit here regardless. So Jim Thorpe is Native American, and like Robert Aldrich’s Apache, this is Lancaster trying to do some liberal do-gooderism. As a non-Western, it trades redface for heavy dollops of whitesplaining, but at least the intention is there, y’know? And then after the first hour of never-ending glory accretion, the last half-hour of the film is similarly never-ending despair. I mean, he gets stripped of his medals and his kid dies and he leaves his wife and becomes a Vegas sideshow? And the only conciliation is an impotent framing device where lots of old shitheads give a toast in his honor? Depressing stuff!
Again, this ain’t top-tier Lancaster, but if you’ve seen 20+ of his films like I have, it’s a decent B-Side.
The Woman on the Beach | RKO | Jean Renoir | 1947
I knew I was gonna eat this up. I worship at the altar of Robert Ryan. Everything is right with that guy. His name alliterates, his politics were solid, and, most importantly, he channeled the grueling self-punishment and tattered masculinity of postwar America with nary a shred of showboating aplomb. He just knew how to train his glinting marble eyes and clench his gnarled lower lip and spill out the most quietly imposing, creakily mellifluous of voices — laced with claustrophobic intonation and beset by a burbling anxiety.
And here’s Ryan with Renoir in a creepy film noir, where the beach is a boneyard and eros its pervading specter. There’s no articulating what’s under this guy’s skin, and thank the lord! It’s a lot of symbolically charged imagery without any actual symbolism — the organic flow of the figurative that my main man Jean was able to effortlessly conjure. Oneiric whirlpools, a paradoxically perceptive blind man, mist and tempest and haunted shipwreck…but then the RKO butchery and wonky ending that renders tangible what should be misty abstraction. So not perfect. But when you have movies like Bob Ryan in them, who needs perfect?????????
The Trial of Joan of Arc | Robert Bresson | 1962
Damn, I loved this. It’s technically minor I guess, but very pure. Polar extremities of visceral tactility and disembodied speech without performance to mediate them. Footsteps and Anti-clericalism: The Movie.
Streets of Fire | Walter Hill | 1984
I don’t know what to say. This movie is so dumb. It’s the pop-schlock eighties raining neon confetti on my corneas. It’s like a worse version of Trouble in Mind, with a way dumber storyline (point A to B and back again!). But when it’s just electric flashes of rock madness it’s the kind of numbing euphoria that eighties Hollywood exists for. But then it garbage-chutes into cornball noir-aping tortured past shit. Rick Moranis should have been the lead. Am I wrong to assume that Walter Hill just keeps getting worse and worse as his career goes along?