2001 VICTORIA AND ALBERT
Queen Victoria had a lifelong devotion to her husband, Prince Albert, even long after his death, and this film shows you why. Part love story, part historical drama, it's fascinating to watch an unsure and naive girl grow into a regal figure and to get to know the man who helped mold her, both politically and personally. The behind-the-scene glimpses of the royals' personal lives are great fun and the scenery and costumes are magnificent. Fans of Downton Abbey will love this!
1952 SINGIN' IN THE RAIN
The image of Gene Kelly acting out the title is so widespread, it's become a cliche, but don't let that steer you away from this really marvelous movie. Yes, there are lots of songs in it, and there's lots of dancing, but the lyrics are really witty and the dancing is outstanding. For instance, Donald O'Connor's performance of "Make 'Em Laugh" is absolutely the best comic dancing number ever filmed. The story, too, though it has its melodramatic moments, is pretty funny. This movie is a most unusual thing: Hollywood actually making fun of itself!
Just about the best movie based on a Biblical story I've seen. This movie, originally made for the TNT network tells it straight: a young boy betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery rises to the top in ancient Egypt and is able to save his people from famine. But it's so much more than that. It's about faith and honor and forgiveness. The cast is stellar: Ben Kingsley, Martin Landau, Lesley Ann Warren and Paul Mercurio, who made his mark in Strictly Ballroom now taking on a strictly non-musical role and doing an excellent job. (PG)
1993 GROUNDHOG DAY
Bill Murray has seldom been so irritating as when he plays Phil, a burnt-out TV weather man sent to Punxsutawney, PA, to cover Groundhog Day. Movie karma being what it is, he finds himself having to repeat the same day over and over in this unsophisticated small town. Surrounded by a score of goofy characters, Phil explores the boundaries of this new existence with hilarious results. Andie McDowell plays the love interest in what turns out to be a gentle romantic comedy. (PG)
1990 MY BLUE HEAVEN
Witness protection really isn't this much fun, but Steve Martin as a mob hit man is actually loveable in this wacky comedy. Being in danger from his former associates doesn't stop him from getting up to his old illegal tricks and turning a small California town upside-down. Rick Moranis is the perfect foil as an unlikely FBI agent and Joan Cusack is appealingly clumsy as the exasperated DA. There are dozens of quotable lines in this one and you'll be grinning as you watch the end credits. (PG-13)
1975 THE HIDING PLACE
Thousands of innocent people are being dragged off to their deaths. What would you do? During WWII, the family of a simple Dutch clockmaker hid Jews and helped smuggle them to safety. They weren't Jewish themselves, but felt that Christ would want them to do this. Eventually, they were betrayed. Father and two daughters were sent to the concentration camps. Did they survive? Did their Christian faith survive? This gripping film, made forty years ago, may not have the slick production values we've come to expect, but the essence of this story will touch your heart, no matter what your faith is. The cast is excellent: Jeannette Clift, Julie Harris, Eileen Heckart, Arthur O'Connell, Nigel Hawthorne. The story of Corrie Ten Boom is timeless. (The book is also well worth reading.)
1943 SHADOW OF A DOUBT
Hitchcock with a heart. The suspense in this black-and-white small town mystery is intense, but there's a kind heart to the story, too. Charlie Newton, aka Charlotte, was named for her mother's brother, her Uncle Charlie. When he comes to visit, she wants to re-establish their friendship, but something's wrong with Uncle Charlie. What the audience knows, but young Charlie doesn't, is that her uncle is an urbane and charming, but ruthless, serial killer. As the law sniffs around, Charlie begins to have her suspicions and the danger grows in this peaceful hamlet. The cast is top-notch: Joseph Cotton, Teresa Wright, MacDonald Carey and in a stand-out performance as the tender-hearted mother of the family, Patricia Collinge. With a screenplay by Thornton Wilder (of Our Town fame) and a musical score by Dmitri Tiomkin, this movie is my favorite of anything Hitchcock ever directed.
1939 THE WOMEN
Catty, witty and surprisingly corny, this movie was a hilarious way to cram virtually every female star in Hollywood into one movie, including Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, Majorie Main, Butterfly McQueen, Virginia Grey, and more. The story is relatively simple: Joan steals Norma's man and this becomes the topic of conversation between every character thereafter. The snappy dialogue is priceless and the fashions are beyond ridiculous, but everybody in this piece of high-calorie fluff plays it totally straight, which makes it all the more appealing. (Don't bother with the pathetic remake from the 90's. Hold out for the original!)
1977 JESUS OF NAZARETH.
In honor of the recent Easter holiday, I'm featuring the TV miniseries from Franco Zeffirelli.
In my opinion, it's the most faithful and reverent of all the depictions of the Lord's life and ministry. The lead role is played by an actor relatively unknown in the US, Robert Powell. He gives the person of Jesus a gentle, melancholy power that pervades the entire film. They must have emptied out Hollywood (and Europe) to fill out the rest of the cast: Anne Bancroft as Mary Magdalene, Olivia Hussey as the Virgin Mary, Michael York is electric as John the Baptist, Christopher Plummer as Herod, Rod Steiger as Pontius Pilate, and on and on. It's available on DVD and well worth finding!
1946 DRAGONWYCK, Shivers Galore! Based on a popular novel by Anya Seton, this classic Gothic story set in the 1840's is surprisingly absorbing. Beautiful country girl Miranda Wells (Gene Tierney) marries handsome patroon (landowner) Nicholas Van Rhyn (Vincent Price), little realizing that he's rotten husband material: cruel, overbearing, demanding and ultimately murderous. Sure, it's a melodrama with soap opera overtones, but this classic film is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Price strikes just the right note in one of his first villainous roles. (Watch for a young Jessica Tandy as a crippled maid whose handicap offends Nicholas and an equally young Harry Morgan of MASH fame as a farmer.)
1938 BOY'S TOWN: "There are no bad boys."
In honor of the passing of one of the greats, Mickey Rooney, I'm featuring a film where he had a chance to show off his acting chops. He doesn't need to sing or dance to shine in this movie. He's completely convincing as the embittered street kid who refuses Father Flanagan's (Spencer Tracy) efforts to help him until one fateful and tragic day that changes everything and everybody. This is an uplifting movie for the whole family, full of brotherhood, faith and forgiveness. You can watch the film for free at the link below:
1956 THE SEARCHERS
Some call it "the best Western ever made." And I tend to agree with them. This has everything: terror, revenge, music, majestic Western scenes, hilarious humor, poignant tragedy, low-key romance and a heart-warming reconciliation. (Don't miss Ken Curtis--the future "Festus"--as a love-sick wrangler!) John Wayne was never better than as Ethan Edwards, the laconic cowboy who is determined to find his niece among hostile Indians. Vera Miles, Jeffrey Hunter, Ward Bond, Ken Curtis and Natalie Wood are all at their best in this stirring saga .
From the first moment, when a body is thrown from a train, to the highly satisfying closing scene, this film has it all: danger, mystery, romantic tension, a gorgeous setting (Paris), fantastic clothes (Yves St. Laurent), unforgettable music (Henry Mancini), a nail-biting climax all freely sprinkled with understated humor. Keep in mind, this isn’t for children, but the violence is so much more tame than the current films, I imagine a child over, say twelve, could handle it. I first saw this in my middle teens and was utterly thrilled. I saw it again recently and the fun was still there. Featuring an all-star lineup of Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, George Kennedy, Walter Matthau, James Coburn.
1945 A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN
Poignant, funny, irresistible.
The song “Rings On My Fingers” played on a hurdy-gurdy organ opens this heart-warming story of a family’s life in a Brooklyn tenement in 1912. Father (James Dunn) is a singing waiter with big dreams, who only works sporadically. Mother (Dorothy McGuire), the practical one, keeps everything together with the sweat of her brow. The two children, Francie (Peggy Ann Garner), and Neely, help out by scrounging for every penny. Even the acquisition of a scrawny leftover Christmas tree is a struggle. Despite all the hardship, there are many moments of humor. Sassy Aunt Sissy (Joan Blondell) is going into her third semi-marriage without benefit of divorce from the first two! When tragedy strikes, a kindly policeman (Lloyd Nolan) steps in with love and compassion, enabling the story to end on an upbeat note. Based on the novel by Betty Smith, the family portrait portrayed in this movie rings true: people with faults, failings, longings and most of all, love.