Movie Project #21: Shadows [1959]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Shadows [1959]

Shadows [1959]
Director: John Cassavetes
Genre: Drama
Starring: Ben Carruthers, Lelia Goldoni and Hugh Hurd
Runtime: 81 minutes

Shadows, director John Cassavetes’ first film, is widely considered to be a landmark in independent film making. Shot entirely with a 16mm handheld camera on the streets of New York City, Shadows was funded on a meager $40,000 budget. There was no script; instead, the vast majority of the dialogue was improvised. The crew consisted of volunteers and fellow class members of Cassavetes. Essentially, the low budget helped more than anything to give the film an authentic documentary-style feel.

Shadows follows the lives of a trio of siblings. Hugh (Hugh Hurd), is a talented but struggling jazz singer who is currently resorted to opening for girl go-go dancers. Ben (Ben Carruthers) is a hipster musician who has little direction in his life. Lelia (Lelia Goldoni) is an aspiring writer who is also emotionally vulnerable. They are, in a nutshell, very much members of the Beat Generation.

Shadows [1959]

Shadows is remembered especially for its brave portrayal of sensitive issues from its time period. Interracial relationships are examined, as Lelia’s new fling, Tony (Anthony Ray) freaks out when discovering that she is African-American (her light complexion is quite a bit different than her brothers). There was also a bit of a controversy when Lelia and Tony were shown in a post-coital position — how dare a young woman have sex before marriage??

Given the rough look and nature of the film, it feels like we are right there on the streets of 1950s New York. The narrative moves along as it desires, never really settling down into a general plot. Sure, issues are brought up, but the film has more of a “day in the life” approach before it reaches its anticlimactic conclusion. With its improv dialogue and jazzy soundtrack, Shadows is an interesting relic of its time. Its importance to independent film making is undeniable, but it doesn’t pack quite the same punch today.


Movie Project #5: Some Like It Hot [1959]

Due to the overwhelming success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Some Like It Hot [1959]

Some Like It Hot [1959]
Director: Billy Wilder
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon
Runtime: 120 minutes

Nobody’s perfect.

In my last project, I watched two Billy Wilder classics: Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard. I loved both and immediately wanted to see more of his work. While compiling this year’s edition, I was positive that I included two more of his films: The Apartment and Some Like It Hot. I watched The Apartment recently and it blew me away. I was all set to give my first 10/10 for a movie in this project but then I realized that I had mistakenly left it out! Somehow it got lost in the shuffle when I downsized the list to 25 and then bumped it back up to 50. Regardless, I made sure my next viewing was another Wilder film.

Some Like It Hot is quite different from The Apartment (or Double Indemnity or Sunset Boulevard, for that matter), as it is a total screwball comedy. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis star as Jerry and Joe, respectively, a couple of Chicago musicians who unwittingly become witnesses to the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre of 1929. Now on the run from the mob, the duo get the wild idea to dress up as women and take a gig with an all-girl band down in Florida. This is where they meet Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), the lead singer of the band, and both instantly fall in love with her. It’s Joe (now Josephine) who gets the upper hand when Sugar visits him for a late night party, all while Jerry (now Daphne, previously Geraldine) is sleeping in the bunk below.

Upon arriving in Florida, the movie takes an interesting twist as the love subplots start to develop. Joe/Josephine poses as a different man, the alleged heir to Shell Oil, in order to win over Sugar and her love for money. Meanwhile, Jerry/Daphne is dealing with a legitimate millionaire, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), who is in love with the Daphne persona. Hijinx ensue, as there are so many different personalities at play, and our leading tandem are trying desperately not to blow their covers.

Jack Lemmon & Tony Curtis [Some Like It Hot - 1959]

In 2000, the American Film Institute dubbed Some Like It Hot to be the greatest American comedy of all time. Obviously this is a huge statement, but it also shows just how much comedies have changed over the years. Wilder’s film relies heavily on double entendres and dry one liners, a far cry from the types of toilet humor we are used to now. Even though cross dressing is a major plot point, the film doesn’t rely too heavily on this for laughs. I was a little worried that the movie was going to be a one-trick pony, but thankfully that isn’t the case. Sex is a central figure as well, but the jokes are brought about in a way that aren’t spelled out for us — a refreshing change, for sure.

This was the first movie I saw with Marilyn Monroe in a major role. I had previously seen her in The Asphalt Jungle, but her small un-credited appearance wasn’t enough for me to understand the fanaticism about her. Now I understand. Monroe, despite being notoriously difficult to work with, just oozes sex appeal as Sugar Kane. Just take a look at her solo performance singing “I Wanna Be Loved by You” as proof:

It’s easy to see why both Jerry and Joe are smitten with her.

It’s also easy to see why Some Like It Hot is held in such high regard, even today. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, and I am quickly becoming a fan of Jack Lemmon in particular, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is the greatest comedy of all time. I felt the film started to lose its luster once the Chicago gangsters reappeared (even though it was a treat to see George Raft again, as I had previously only seen him in The Glass Key), and it ran a little long for being a screwball comedy. Still, these are minor issues for what is another great title in Wilder’s diverse filmography. And who could ever forget the hilarious closing line?