The Movie Snob takes in another classic(?)
Lolita (B). This past Tuesday evening I took in Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita at the Magnolia Theater. I’ve never read the book, so I didn’t quite know what to expect, but of course I knew the gist of the story, so I was prepared for a squirm-inducing experience. A snooty, middle-aged British academic named Humbert Humbert (James Mason, A Star Is Born) moves to a small American town for a summer, and he immediately falls into a lusty obsession with his landlady’s under-aged daughter, who is named Dolores but nicknamed Lolita (Sue Lyon, The Night of the Iguana). I read on the internet that she’s 12 in the book, but Lyon was 15 when the movie was filmed and looked older to me. Skeezy things ensue, and Humbert and Lolita wind up traveling across country together. Shelley Winters (The Diary of Anne Frank) is memorable as Lolita’s pathetic, desperate, and widowed mother. Peter Sellers (Dr. Strangelove) turns in a scene-stealing performance as a bizarre character named Clare Quilty. I hardly know what grade to give this odd movie about an untouchable subject, but I will say I was never bored and didn’t squirm all that often.
The Movie Snob takes in another classic(?)
Easy Rider (D). I saw this one courtesy of Fathom Events’ classic film series. I went in knowing virtually nothing about it except that (1) it stars Dennis Hopper (Giant) and Peter Fonda (Ulee’s Gold) and (2) it’s some kind of “hippie movie.” Boy, is it! In a quick opening, we see Billy (Hopper) and Captain America (Fonda) make a killing in a cocaine deal in what is apparently Los Angeles. After that, they saddle up their motorcycles and hit the open road for New Orleans, where they hope to be in time for Mardi Gras. On their quest, Billy is twitchy and paranoid, while Captain America is laid back and philosophical. They visit a commune that seems destined for starvation. They smoke a lot of marijuana. Most memorably, they are joined for part of their journey by a small-town alcoholic attorney played by Jack Nicholson (The Shining), in what was apparently his break-out role. The movie gets progressively darker as it goes along, but I won’t spoil the ending despite its being 50 years old this year. Although it’s a pretty efficient piece of moviemaking–it’s only 95 minutes long–and it got nominated for two Oscars© and several other awards, I couldn’t appreciate it. I just kept thinking things like Do these guys ever shower? Or brush their teeth? What do they smell like after all these days riding motorcycles through and sleeping in the desert? I was pleased to read critic David Thomson wrap up his review in the book “Have You Seen . . . ?” this way: “And it is unwatchable–unless you are benefiting from the illegal substances it advocates.”
From the desk of The Movie Snob.
The Landmark Julius Caesar: The Complete Works, translated and edited by Kurt A. Raaflaub (2017). The complete works and then some – this volume contains not only the ten “books” Caesar wrote about the Gallic Wars and the civil war he fought with Pompey, but also four other books about Caesar’s campaigns that were written by other authors. The translation is very readable (I’m in no position to judge its accuracy), and the stories are generally quite interesting. Sure, I occasionally got lost among the many proper names for places, tribes, and people I’d never heard of before, but I didn’t sweat that. One thing was a hoot – Caesar mentions the two soldiers at the center of the HBO miniseries Rome, by name, for their courage during a particular battle in the Gallic Wars! They were real people! Anyway, this edition is a massive chunk of a book because it contains lots of introductions, footnotes, maps, pictures, and appendices. I read the introductions and lots of the footnotes, and they added a lot to the stories. If you’re into the swords-and-sandals genre of history, this is a must-have.
A DVD review from The Movie Snob.
The 39 Steps (B). Well, I intended to see a movie at the theater today, but I got some bad information from the internet and wound up seeing nothing. So I decided to get some use out of my DVD collection and pulled down The Criterion Collection edition of this 1935 Hitchcock thriller. Robert Donat (Goodbye Mr. Chips) stars as Hannay, an ordinary Londoner caught up in a web of intrigue when he takes a beautiful woman back to his flat one evening and she turns out to be a spy—and gets herself murdered that very night! Suddenly, Hanney is on the run—wanted by the police on suspicion of murder and by sinister spies who are trying to steal British military secrets. On a train to Scotland he has a meet-cute with Pamela (Madeleine Carroll, Secret Agent), and they later team up to try to foil the foreign plot. The film is not terribly suspenseful but has some pleasant romantic-comedy aspects to it. And at 86 minutes, it’s quite efficient. I didn’t watch all the extras that Criterion packed onto the disc, but a short feature about Hitchcock’s film career in England before moving to Hollywood was interesting, and a critic’s discussion of The 39 Steps itself was also interesting and entertaining.
The Movie Snob checks in with a new review of an old movie.
Gaslight (B+). This 1942 classic stars the beauteous Ingrid Bergman (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) as Paula Alquist. In the opening scene, we see a very young Paula being escorted away from the London townhome where she has just discovered the body of her murdered aunt (her guardian since birth). Flash forward a few years, and Paula is living in Italy. She has followed in her aunt’s footsteps by studying music and singing, but we learn she has just been swept off her feet by a debonair foreigner named Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer, Fanny). Anton is strangely eager to move to London, and into the townhouse Paula inherited from her aunt. And once they are ensconced there, Paula seems to start to lose her grip on her sanity, and Gregory becomes ever more controlling. What is happening? Straight-arrow Scotland Yard detective Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten, The Third Man) senses something is amiss, but can he figure it out in time to help Paula? I quite enjoyed this classic old noir. Watch for a young Angela Lansbury (TV’s Murder, She Wrote) as a saucy housemaid.
Book review from The Movie Snob.
Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather (originally published 1927). I had never read any of Willa Cather’s work before, but I found this novel very moving and very beautiful. In the mid-1800s, the United States is consolidating its control over the area that would eventually become the State of New Mexico. The Catholic Church responds to these developments by sending a new missionary bishop to take charge of the area—a Frenchman named Jean Marie Latour. His life-long friend, Father Joseph Vaillant, accompanies him, and together the two clerics (who had previously been toiling in the mission fields of Ohio) experience the beauty and the mystery of the southwestern desert and its Mexican and Indian inhabitants. Michael Dirda sums it up well: “The most serenely beautiful of [Cather’s] books, it seems scarcely a novel at all, more a kind of New World pastoral, evoking the beauty of the desert Southwest, lamenting the passing of traditional Native culture, and glorifying the lives of two saintly Catholic missionaries as they spread their faith in a harsh land.” (Classics for Pleasure 255.) For my part, I add this book to Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited as my favorite “Catholic” novels.
A book review from The Movie Snob.
The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank. I had never read this famous book before, but when I signed up for a vacation trip to Amsterdam I figured I should read it first. I got about halfway through before my trip rolled around, but that was enough to help give me some context when I visited the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam. I finished the book over the course of the trip. Anyway, it is an interesting book, and Anne comes across as a lively, spirited, and strong-willed teenager. It does get a little repetitive, perhaps, but how could it not, given that Anne lived in hiding in a tiny space with the same group of people for two years?