Disappointing classics

So over the last couple of months some friends and I have been doing semi-regular “classics we haven’t seen” movie nights, which have been filling in some gaps but not always as enjoyably as I’d hoped.

The Ladykillers (1955). Inflated expectations might have figured here, but I expected and wanted something… brisker? There were some great individual lines, but the artificiality and pacing didn’t work for me. It was neat to see Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom working together outside of the Pink Panther.

The Italian Job (1969). Noel Coward’s last film! Michael Caine! “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”

Bah. The characters were variously unsympathetic, there was very little tension in the actual heist, and I suspect the film-makers wrecked those two E-types and the Aston Martin mainly as a kind of fan-disservice to get the audience to yelp. Which I did. Such a waste.

On the other hand, it has what must be one of the first cinematic instances of a hacker deliberately inserting malicious code into a computer system, plus there’s Benny Hill perving clownishly after large Italian women. All that and the car chase weren’t enough to redeem it for me, though.

Does anyone want to tell me we shouldn’t bother with The Third Man?

Hell no, The Third Man is bloody genius. Although I wouldn’t be surprised to see a post from you in a few days saying, what the hell was up with that damned zither?

Incorrect expectations, more likely. Despite its reputation as a searing black comedy, The Ladykillers is at heart what mystery fans call “a cozy” - a gentle ramble about British eccentrics. A sugar pill with a bitter coating, to steal a phrase from Kurt Vonnegut.

Those are three of my 20 favourite films, so I should probably shut up before I go on an ill-advised rant.

Glad to hear it. I’m prepared for the zither. I’m also looking forward to the line about the Borgias and the cuckoo clock.

The Ladykillers certainly wasn’t bad, but I kept waiting for it to blossom into hilarity, which it obstinately didn’t.

This has probably been the starting condition for every first viewing of Citizen Kane in the past several decades.

I find Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs to be a bore. (Not to mention its title is known to be grammatically incorrect to all dwarven scholars.)

Third Man is awesome. One of my personal favorites and for my money, one of the best films ever made.

How’s that for some expectation Viagra?

Joining the chorus on The Third Man. So excellent.

I am an unabashed Orson Welles fanatic and I approve this message.

Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.

Then grab Touch of Evil for some noir goodness and one of the longest tracking shots in film history.

The Excorcist is surprisingly boring when viewed with modern-day sensibilities. Or even '90s sensibilities when I finally got around to seeing it. I kept waiting for something scary or disturbing to happen.

I guess you’re supposed to look at it from a film history student’s perspective? Because I didn’t care for it at all. The broad, clumsy acting of the day does nothing for me. I’m sure it was groundbreaking when it was filmed. That, and he dared taunt Hearst, I guess.

It’s more about how perfectly executed it is than whether it’s interesting, which it isn’t.

I mentioned this one in another thread, but Maltese Falcon doesn’t work for me. There are a few good scenes (like when the Fat Man drugs Sam Spade), but Mary Astor’s histrionic performance is unbearable and the plot isn’t that interesting. I like many of the same actors in other films (Casablanca, for example, which shares 3 principals), so I don’t have a problem with most of the cast, but Maltese Falcon is a film I plan to avoid.

Never get involved in a land war in Asia, never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line, and don’t run with scissors?

Yeah, yeah, wrong spelling. I’ll edit it. :-)

I don’t believe that’s necessary, but it helps.

That era in film was still transitional in many ways. The actors that appeared in the movies had either come out of the silent film era, or had made their mark on stage. In both cases, they had to act BIG in order to convey their thoughts and feelings. That style of acting does look broad and clumsy to today’s audiences.

As for the brilliance behind Citizen Kane, I highly recommend reading Peter Bogdanovich’s This is Orson Welles. They go into the making of Citizen Kane in great depth and you realize after reading about it just how much innovation was involved in that film. He revolutionized filmmaking…and he was still very much a novice in the field (having come from the world of stage). One of the most visually arresting (for that time) “tricks” he brought to the film was the numerous shots made from different angles. Before that, films were shot as if they were still stage plays. Very static and usually eye level. Welles thought that was too limiting and he would actually create holes in the sound stage floor and film up (which was unheard of because ceilings were NEVER shown in films back in those days), or film from the rafters. That kind of cinematography is commonplace today, but if you go back and watch other films prior to that, you’ll see it’s hardly ever (if actually ever) used.

Also, Welles had balls bigger than church bells. Read the aforementioned book and you’ll come across so many fantastic anecdotes about his life and his actions that you’ll never think of him as the “fat guy selling wine” character ever again.

Edit: oh, and this viewer’s companion to Citizen Kane created by the late, great Roger Ebert is pretty eye opening too.

I don’t get Wizard of Oz. It’s too weird, and not in a good way. What a bunch of creepy people in creepy costumes gallivanting about on creepy sets.


To continue the Welles sidetrack… Welles’ entrance in The Third Man is pretty spectacular. One of the great movie entrances of all time. Also, I recommend watching Touch of Evil right after. Welles is about 5 times heavier. It’s startling!

Welles’ Stranger isn’t a particularly good film, but I always enjoy it. Post WW2, Edward G Robinson plays a Nazi war criminal hunter and Welles is a Nazi w/ an assumed identity as a teacher in Connecticut. It’s great to see Welles try to stay cool as the noose tightens, and there’s a funny scene where he absentmindedly doodles swastikas on a notepad in a soda shop.

Hanna, on the other hand … no costumes, right? ;)

Birth of a Nation fascinates me. It’s mentioned in almost any discussion of classic films, but the story it tells is absolutely appalling. I realize that the time in which it was made was a vastly different one, but you have to wonder how that much…well…evil…could be seen as okay.

…and yes, Wizard of Oz is creepy. If I saw it today I’d wonder if it was Miley Ray Cyrus video.