Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013 (Part 1 of 5)

This is an idea I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974)

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There’s not much that can be said (I’m quite sure) about these two films that hasn’t already been said. Perhaps what is likely more interesting to you who read this is how and why I went so long without seeing these films. I think with a lot of movies it boils down to wanting enough separation from all the hyperbole. I think once I started developing some eclectic tastes that hearing merely that: “It’s great. You HAVE to see it.” became more of a deterrent than an incentive.

Quite frankly I nearly put just part two here because it’s that much better (it’s like watching two amazing movies at the same time) but you can’t have one without the other, and one thing I take solace in is that as opposed to people who saw them as they were released I saw part two a week after part one and only waited 24 hours before being terribly let down by part 3.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, Warner Bros.)

I tried to split where I saw these films when creating the five parts of this series. Thus, the likelihood of having consecutive classics is lessened. I saw this film during 31 Days of Oscar.

This was my initial capsule review:

This is an incredibly intricate and thankfully subtle-when-it-counts psychological drama. It also has an interesting approach of showing us what is seemingly your typical, bitter, drunken, couple of academia, then when their guests arrive we start to learn, slowly but surely who they really are, and the portrait painted is shocking, harrowing and really makes you think.

A personal note is that I recall the Walpurgisnacht segment from an acting class I took in college as it was one of the assigned scenes. It was interesting to not only see a film version, but also to be exposed to the entire work.

A Wicked Woman (1934)

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This is a film I saw thanks to TCM, and fittingly features an actor I spotlighted in the Children in Film Blogathon, Jackie Searl. This is a film that offers in his filmography another break from his usually slimy, bratty persona. It’s also one of his older performances from when he could still be considered a young actor and eventually transitioned to adult character roles.

It’s a brisk tale that’s a melodramatic romance. It’s briefer synopsis as offered by the IMDb is rather a simple one:

A mother, who, to save her children from a bestial father and herself from being killed, kills her husband and makes a bargain with God that if she remains free for ten years, in order to raise her children, she will then give herself up to justice.

The complications that could occur are inherent and the film does well to put some unexpected spins on the scenarios that ensue.

Lifeboat (1944)

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This was a year that more and more saw more gray area tales with World War II as a backdrop. However, this one is by no means new. What’s fascinating in this film is that despite its unity of space, and the potential visual doldrums that any seafaring tales can bring on; this film remains vibrant, tense and character-based throughout, and through Old Hollywood magic (and Hitch) is pretty great to look at throughout.

The suspense is palpable because of the characters, how their drawn and the situations they find themselves in.

Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943)

Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943, RKO)

It seems that some series have some late sequence gold in them. This film in the Weissmuller era, and in the RKO years nonetheless; pulls off quite a miraculous feat in being as enjoyable as it is.

This movie is ridiculously fun to watch. It’s crowd-pleasing aspects drench it and still radiate off the screen to this very day. Having traversed the series anew my expectations were corrected, but even thinking back to where they (the expectations) had been this blew those right out of the water regardless.

You don’t have to watch all the prior Weissmuller Tarzan films to get this one, but you’ll certainly have more of an appreciation of how unexpected this one was if you have.

Blondie (1938)

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When people discuss that sequels are not new they often cite the glut of Blondie films that were made from the late-1930s through the early 1950s. Having gotten a cheap boxset a while back I decided to crack the seal when I heard this cited several times over.

Blondie was still in a fairly consistent rotation through syndicates in the comics section of newspapers when I was young. However, that was a small taste, and lower down the reading list for me. Despite the fact that these films seem to be TV cuts with a later scene of confusion spliced in at the head of the film as a carrot. Regardless, it’s well set-up, still funny and fairly timeless. It’s a series I’ll gladly continue through the next year.

Love on the Run (1979)

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Yes, I had somehow not completed the Antoine Doinel films. I love Truffaut, and somehow I hadn’t. My miscalculation was that there would be a predictable ebb-and-flow to the series. I like The 400 Blows just fine. I don’t hold it as highly as others either in his canon or the whole of his career. But viewing the entire series its a wondrous journey and this is perhaps my favorite. It cannot and would not be viewed out of sequence, as I made such mistakes in the past, but viewed in sequence you may find your own favorite. There’s much magic later on in the series, as opposed to most.

Asylum (1972)

Asylum (1971, Amicus Productions)

I have to admit I had not even heard of Asylum until a few years ago when the horror anthology became something I was more consciously aware of. My reticence again was due to hype. I don’t have sufficient frame of reference to rule this out as the best ever, but while it’s not the one I enjoyed most it is crazy good and a fairly cohesive one as opposed to most.

Dracula (1931; Spanish Version)

Dracula (1931, Universal)

Here’s another case where there’s a classic film that I liked and appreciate but was not as giddy about as some are. When I heard about this foreign-language version (an aspect of the Hollywood system that will probably never cease to fascinate me) I knew I had to see this and may as well get the legacy box.

The alternately scored Dracula
is also great, but this one was made simultaneously with its own original score and while some things are trade-offs (like no Lugosi) some large and some small aspects are so great, and nearly predictive of what I wanted to see in the original.

If anything this is the earliest proof that a remake or alternate version of a film is much like a revival of a stage play: it’s not a replacement, just a different vision and this is one I responded to greatly.

Tarzan Thursday: Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943)

Introduction

Last year the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th year in print. A serialized version of the story first appeared in 1912. A hardcover collection of Tarzan of the Apes first appeared in 1914. Being in the middle of the Tarzan centennial period it’s an opportune time to (re)visit many of the screen renditions of the character. Previous posts in this and other series can be found here.

Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943)

In many ways this was the title that inspired not only a chronological viewing of the Weissmuller titles but much of the impetus behind the entire series. I had heard good things about this and/or Triumphs so I was anxious to see this one a first time. Sure enough whether you come into the title cold, or you watch it in its rightful place in the series is a joyous revelation to behold. Not only does Tarzan’s Desert Mystery firmly embrace a B movie ethos here, and feel more firmly in an RKO mode than any other title, but if you follow the entire series it either repurposes tropes or uses them to maximum effect in this film. I lost track of how many times while watching it I saw a seemingly familiar instance or set-up not only followed-through, but done so in a beautifully satisfying manner.

One of the main sins of the series that is rectified here is that it hardly wastes a second through the entirety of the feature. The late-MGM and early RKO films were shorter as a rule but still had the same fillers, not so here. Perhaps it was destiny that this was the one that would work the best since the initial Wiessmuller trilogy. The studio took a flyer on writing Jane out: she is still nursing wounded soldiers at war, but the MacGuffin (Yes, there’s a MacGuffin in this film) is a journey by Tarzan and Boy for medicine.

One of the principal causes of wasted screentime in the past was Cheetah. However, in this film Cheetah not only comes to the rescue at a crucial point but is instrumental throughout. Rather than just being a kleptomaniac, and a bit of comic relief; Cheetah more frequently is an active participant in a Lassie-like mold and aids the heroes of the tale.

Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943, RKO)

With some subdued conflict this film also addresses the father-son dynamic of Tarzan and Boy fairly well. Boy’s lie here is that Jane insists he go on the trip, though Jane is instructing he should not. Boy being the one who can read tries to use that to his advantage. Tarzan, knowing Jane and what she thinks is best for Boy, tries to keep him home. Eventually Boy’s will wins out and that is a great thing for the film also as it doesn’t split time having him chase down Tarzan or getting in some other bit of trouble. They start out on the same footing as equals.

Another massive boon to the film is Nancy Kelly in the role of Connie Brice. While she’s introduced in the only scene that feels it’s going to serve next to no purpose save for showing off a magic trick that, too, is quickly fixed. She plays the archetypal fast-talking dame and has other qualities that make her character, and her interpretation thereof, a wonderful addition to the film. The amount of intrigue she adds to the plot is spectacular. Not to mention that the conniving plots of the villains never really take a backseat and is always a real and present danger, and of impact in the story.

Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943, RKO)

Nothing is out of place in this film. Even when there’s something weird and seemingly frivolous like a seemingly poorly scaled rear projection image, a turban theft or a jailing, things are paid off left and right there’s clearly thought behind everything in the writing and the performances.

Not only that but this movie is ridiculously fun to watch. It’s crowd-pleasing aspects drench it and still radiate off the screen to this very day. Having traversed the series anew my expectations were corrected, but even thinking back to where they (the expectations) had been this blew those right out of the water regardless. Can I claim it’s the definitive Tarzan film? No, probably not for a lack of Jane, but in latter-day terms of the Weissmuller era there was likely little if anything that could’ve been done to better it. It’s great and will likely stand as one of my favorite older films of the year.