Movie Project #29 and #30: Sunset Boulevard [1950] and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Sunset Boulevard [1950]
Sunset Boulevard [1950, Billy Wilder]
Starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim.

Holy hell, what a film! The fact that such a biting satire about the film industry was made in 1950 blows my mind. The movie opens up mysteriously with a dead man floating in the pool. This man, Joe Gillis (played by the brilliant Holden), proceeds to narrate the film from beyond the grave, and the movie follows the events that led up to his demise. While on the run from repo men, Gillis pulls into the garage of what he thinks is an abandoned Hollywood mansion. Well, it turns out that the long-retired silent film star Norma Desmond (the scary-good Swanson, a former silent film star herself) is living there, and she sparks up an interest in the failing writer of Gillis. What transpires is truly bizarre, as Gillis becomes involved in a love triangle with Desmond and a young writer (Nancy Olson).

The world that Norma Desmond lives in is beyond fascinating, as she has clearly lost her mind and is stuck living in the past. She believes she will make a great comeback someday, and her reassuring butler (von Stroheim) refuses to tell her otherwise, fearing she will commit suicide. Her descent into madness culminates with one of the most memorable closing lines ever uttered on film: “There’s nothing else. Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark. All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my closeup.”

Sunset Boulevard also has some terrific moments of dark humor, and I particularly loved the brief cameos from silent film stars such as Buster Keaton and H.B. Warner. This was the first time I had heard Keaton speak! There really is a lot to love about this movie, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. 10/10

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939]
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939, Frank Capra]
Starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains.

It says something about a movie’s power when a statement made 70+ years ago still holds relevance today. The always awesome James Stewart stars as Jefferson Smith, a naive Boy Scout leader who is oddly selected to take over as a US Senator after an incumbent passes away. When he gets there, he is enamored with the sights and sounds of Washington D.C., even getting himself lost in the process. He quickly finds out that he doesn’t belong there, as he has no interest in the political bullshit that goes on every day. Still, he perserveres, especially after he finds out about a scandal that would build a dam over his proposed Boy Scout campsite.

As a story of one man fighting for what’s right, it’s hard not to admire the movie. Smith, aided by his chief of staff Clarissa Saunders (Arthur), is a likable guy, and his big moment — a very, very long fillibuster — is quite brilliant. Superbly acted with a great screenplay to boot, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington still holds up today. 9/10

Blogathon: Cool Off With The Classics

Another month, another movie blogathon! Marc over at Go, See, Talk came up with another great idea that is sure to start making its rounds in the film blogging community. The idea here is to “Cool Off With The Classics” — that is, to compile a list of black & white classics you would watch to “beat the heat.” Since I have been digging into more classics than usual lately, I thought this would be a fun event to participate in. So here we go… ten of my favorite B&W movies.

12 Angry Men [1957]
1) 12 Angry Men [1957]
Sidney Lumet’s early classic was one of my first experiences with a black & white film. I watched this for the first time in high school and could not believe that an “old movie” set in a courtroom could maintain my interest from beginning to end. An incredible film, and one that I absolutely must see again soon.

The Third Man [1949]
2) The Third Man [1949]
I saw this for the first time earlier this year and fell in love with it. There is so much to like about this movie, and of course it has some of the most memorable moments in cinematic history (such as Orson Welles’ big reveal). The closing shot is one of the best I have ever seen.

Crashout [1955]
3) Crashout [1955]
I caught this earlier this month at the Music Box Theatre’s awesome Noir City Festival. This rarely-seen prison break movie is a lot of fun, and surprisingly brutal for its time period.

Among the Living [1941]
4) Among the Living [1941]
Another rarely-screened movie that I caught at the Noir City Festival. This is a wonderful noir/horror hybrid with great performances from Albert Dekker and Susan Hayward.

Citizen Kane [1941]
5) Citizen Kane [1941]
This is the movie that made me excited to see more classics. We watched the entirety of the film in my university’s Music & Film class, and I was quite frankly amazed. One of the best of all time, obviously, and it felt great to finally understand the lyrics to the Kane-referencing White Stripes song, “The Union Forever“.

City Lights
6) City Lights [1931]
My 50 Movies Project is already reaping dividends, as it provided the means for me to catch this Chaplin silent classic. Words are not needed for Chaplin’s dynamic Tramp character, and his endless pursuit of love is inspiring (with hilarious results).

The Day The Earth Stood Still [1951]
7) The Day The Earth Stood Still [1951]
I am not a big sci-fi fan, so I was a little skeptical about this movie. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed it. Intelligent, entertaining and backed by Bernard Herrmann’s incredible therimin-driven score, this is one of the better sci-fi films I have seen, regardless of age.

The Killing [1956]
8 ) The Killing [1956]
One of Kubrick’s earliest films is one of my favorites from him, and it has been heavily influential over the years (most notably for Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs). An exciting, well-crafted heist noir.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. [1928]
9) Steamboat Bill, Jr. [1928]
I have only seen two, maybe three, Buster Keaton movies, but this is the one I have enjoyed the most. Lots of laughs and some ridiculous physical stunts make this one of the more memorable silent films I have seen.

Seven Samurai [1954]
10) Seven Samurai [1954]
It is a testament to the film’s brilliance that I am able to sit through the full three hours without ever once growing bored or impatient. I saw it for the first time last year and it just blew me away. The quintessential samurai film.

Be sure to check out the rest of the participants in this blogathon, and feel free to join in on the fun as well.