Dark Victory (1939)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Bette Davis stars as a lively twenty-four-year-old woman who was diagnosed with a brain tumor by a doctor (George Brent) who she eventually became romantically entangled with. After the surgery, she was given about ten months to live but her best friend (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and doctor chose not to tell her what would inevitably happen. Aside from the unethical choice that the doctor made (I’m assuming that perhaps it was permitted back in the day), I thought this film was tremendous in every way. I was hooked the moment Davis entered the doctor’s office because their interaction was believable. I saw elegance in how the lead character initially didn’t want to share anything about her condition to the way she slowly opened up and placed her full trust to a man she’d never met. I especially enjoyed Davis as a socialite who lived her life to the fullest but was in complete denial about her debilitating health. As she made her way through certain crowds, there was subtlety in her acting–the little looks she gave to people who she thought were being fake or stupid were amusing to watch. I completely believed that she was the kind of woman who would say or do something outrageous and get away with it with flying colors. I thought there was something heartbreaking about the way she evolved from someone who was so afraid of death to someone who eventually learned to accept it. I couldn’t help but feel moved in the end when she eventually learned to be strong for her friends just as when her friends were strong for her prior to her surgery. I really felt like the picture came full circle and the movie gave me great satisfaction even though the subject matter was essentially sad. Although the film was about a patient who had a terminal disease, I loved that it still had a bit of comedy and romance. The movie could have easily been distracted with sudden shifts in tones and unnecessary side stories (not to mention the easy temptations of getting too melodramatic to get more tears from the audiences) but the script was tight and the overall product had a great sense of pacing because each scene had a purpose. Directed by Edmund Goulding, “Dark Victory” is definitely one of the best movies of 1939, a year in which many movies were worthy of Best Picture winners. “Dark Victory” is one of those movies that made me wish movies of today had just the right amount of dosage in terms of delivery. It’s simple but it had laser-like focus on what it wanted to accomplish.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Two charismatic strangers named Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde (Warren Beatty) teamed up and decided to rob banks in the Depression-era 1930s. Their adventures eventually led them to take in other people including C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), Buck Barrow (Gene Hackman), and Blanche Barrow (Estelle Parsons). I’ve heard a lot about this movie via references from other pictures and television shows so I expected a lot from it. I have to say that it more than impressed because although it was initially about criminals who simply wanted some sort of excitement in their lives, we eventually really got to know them such as how they felt toward each other, their own insecurities and their realization that they wanted to leave the life of crime and start over. In under two hours, Arthur Penn, the director was able to helm a movie with sympathetic characters (when they shouldn’t be because they’ve killed people, especially considering when the film was released) and come full circle when it comes to the story. I also liked the dialogue and the passion in the body language of the actors, notably Dunaway. At times, I would pay attention more on what she was doing instead of what she was saying–something that I often catch myself doing when I’m conversing with someone. So I consider that a very good thing because it means she’s established a bridge between the character and the audience. Lastly, I enjoyed that this picture tried to be more than a series of action sequences. It actually had humor–especially when Gene Wilder appeared on screen–and real dramatic weight, which adds another layer to its substance. I think “Bonnie and Clyde” is rightfully considered as one of the greatest American films because even though it was undoubtedly violent, it really was more about the drama in wanting to escape situations with increasing amount of gravity. Pretty much every minute was efficient and I was fascinated with what was going to happen with the characters even though I knew of their fates. If one hasn’t seen “Bonnie and Clyde,” one should make it a priority. My only regret is that I hadn’t seen it sooner.
The Sting (1973)
★★★★ / ★★★★
I’ve heard a lot of great things about this film back when I was not yet in love with the cinema but never actually tried to search for it. I recently got around to watching this picture because I was in the mood for a classic story about American con men. What I loved about “The Sting” is the partnership between Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Each of them brought something to the table that the other one lacked, so having them together on screen was a joy to watch. I’ve seen a few of Redford’s more modern movies but none of them comes close to his performance here. In the beginning of the film, I thought he looks like a man who’s just in it for the money (and maybe a little bit of revenge) but as the film unfolded, among the chicanery and greed, he surprised me. He played the character with such honesty and introspection to the point where I realized the real reason why he does the things he does. Even though he cons other people, he feels remorse and is aware that he’s just like anybody else: capable of loneliness and hoping for a break from it all. As for Newman, I haven’t seen him in a lot of movies but this convinced me that I should. Behind those bright blue eyes, I found a certain connection–a sort of power–that is hard to come by in modern cinema. I must also commend the director, George Roy Hill, for the excellent pacing and the way he told the story. Yes, the 1930’s look of the film is magnificient–from the shiny vintage cars, exquisite clothes, colorful buildings up to the certain dialects the characters used–but without that feeling of wide-eyed excitement, all of those elements would’ve gone to waste. I thought this picture had a nice balance between thrill and comedy. Even though it’s comedic 80% of the time, that 20% of darkness peeks at the audience from time to time and that’s when I really I got involved. I wish the movie explored that darkness a bit more because it reminded me of modern gangster films’ certain styles and attitude. On top of all that, “The Sting” has a handful of twists and double-crossing that I didn’t see coming. This is a must-see.
Gods and Monsters (1998)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based loosely on James Whale’s life, this film is for both the fan of “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” back in the 1930’s and general film lovers. Ian McKellen plays the legendary director with such power and subtlety, I forgot that I was watching an actor playing a part. The way he told his stories about making films, fighting in the war, and falling in love has a certain organic feel to it to the point where I felt like my grandfather was passing on his most treasured memories to me. Brendan Frasier surprised me in this film because I’ve always seen him in comedies and action-comedies, but he was able to deliver as the gardener who craves for something bigger than himself. He is able to mollify the hunger by interacting with McKellen–someone who has done something important in his life. The dynamic between the two leads have a plethora of implications. To be honest, by the end of the picture, I find it difficult to define their relationship. Sure, they’ve become friends but what kind of friendship did they really have? Was it a utility friendship, pleasure friendship, or complete friendship, or a combination of two or three of them? Another stand-out was Lynn Redgrave as Hanna, McKellen’s caretaker. She was so colorful and spunky in her scenes so it’s hard for me not to notice her. Her relationship with McKellen’s character is multidimensional but it never took the focus out of the film’s core. My favorite scenes include McKellen telling his story of the man he truly loved despite the circumstances through which they met, when the film actually reshot some of the scenes from “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” and when McKellen was finally driven to madness/desperation. Even though this is well-made, this film is not for everyone because it’s really more about the characters, what they’ve been through and where they’re going instead of the plot driving the vehicle to a certain destination. This film has something to say about mortality and how one deals with life after great accomplishments have been achieved. It goes to show that the question of “what if” can be as daunting as asking “what’s next.”