It’s James Stewart’s birthday, and I wrote a bit about him and his top 13 films on Flickchart – he has 13 in the Top 1000! Popular guy, and for all the right reasons. Please enjoy the post on Flickchart and let me know your favorite Jimmy Stewart films!
[Showcasing the best and highlighting the newest additions to the various streaming services, including but not limited to Netflix Instant, HuluPlus, Amazon Prime, and Warner Archive Instant.]
Stream on Netflix: Witness for the Prosecution
I really want to start doing these more often, since a ton of great stuff is dropping onto on demand subscription services all the time. This is one that’s actually been on Netflix Instant for quite a while, but it’s a great movie, I’ve got Billy Wilder on the mind right now, and it has a great double feature combination that’s also on Netflix Instant. Win all around.
Witness for the Prosecution is a late film in three acting careers – Charles Laughton, as experienced but physically ailing barrister Sir Wilfred; Tyrone Power (this is his final credited film), as the murder suspect Leonard Vole whom Laughton defends; and Marlene Dietrich, as Power’s beautiful and devoted wife. It may be late in their careers, but they are all at the top of their game, and so is Wilder, delivering a consistently witty and surprising courtroom drama with a dose of mystery. Laughton’s delightful wife Elsa Lanchester also plays his nurse, who emphatically thinks he is not ready to take on a case after recently suffering a heart attack.
Laughton is always great to watch, from his early villain-type roles like Dr. Moreau in Island of Lost Souls and Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty to his imposing girth as King Henry VIII a few times to his witty charm in movies like this one. He’s got a reputation as a scenery-chewer, and that’s not entirely wrong, but he’s one of the absolute best scenery-chewers ever in the movies, and comes across more as a scene-stealer here. Dietrich has her share of meaty roles, but this may be one of her absolute best, as her duplicity (or is it?) comes to light. The script will keep you guessing, all the way up to the delicious ending.
Double Feature: Anatomy of a Murder
In some ways, Anatomy of a Murder is a more traditional courtroom drama than Witness for the Prosecution, with more courtroom scenes (and American ones, which feel a bit more familiar to us on this side of the pond) and a battle of lawyers front and center as James Stewart defends and George C. Scott prosecutes a man (Ben Gazzara) claiming a temporary insanity defense for killing a man who allegedly raped his wife (Lee Remick). There’s a mystery at the heart of this one, too, as Stewart digs into the evidence to find out what really happened, but it’s not as whimsical or twisty as Witness for the Prosecution.
In 1959, a film touching on the subject of rape was fairly rare and pretty controversial. Director Otto Preminger was no stranger to controversy, having pushed the limits of the Production Code already, notably in 1953 when his film The Moon is Blue included the word “virgin.” Here Remick’s character is known to be something of a flirt or worse, and Gazzara’s is known to be violent and possessive, which brings his plea of temporary insanity into question. The film is also well-remembered for its brilliant Duke Ellington jazz score (also unusual at the time) and the focus on Stewart as a character rather than simply focusing on the plot. That said, his courtroom scenes opposite Scott are electric.
Besides both being courtroom films about a dubious murder case, the films have another connection in terms of the surprising outcomes of each case – which I obviously can’t talk about in any detail without spoiling stuff. I’ve probably said too much already. Both films are streaming on Netflix for the low low price of “included in your $8 a month subscription,” so just watch them. You’ll have a delightful time.
[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn’t like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]
AKA, the TCM Classic Film Festival edition. There are a few others mixed in, but the majority of these are from that Fest. Which means it was a damn good month of moviewatching. Oh, and apparently my two favorite new-to-me films were both silent. I honestly do not try to do this, people. It just happens that way, I swear.
What I Loved
I wouldn’t say Harold Lloyd is a recent discovery for me as I continue my odyssey through silent film; I saw Safety Last quite a while ago and always included him as one of the great silent comedians. But beyond that obligatory name-checking, I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to his work. I was very grateful to put that to rights this month with not one but THREE Lloyd films seen at the TCM Fest and at Cinefamily, and the presentation of Girl Shy at the Egyptian Theatre will definitely go down as a lifetime filmgoing highlight. This film is awesome, taking the nerdy, girl-shy Harold through a series of misadventures whereupon he meets a girl and overcomes his stuttering shyness as he tells her about his book – which is about how to get all kinds of women to fall in love with you. It’s extremely charming and quite funny, and all capped off with one of the most incredible chase stunt sequences I’ve ever seen, and yes, I’m including Keaton’s motorcycle chase in Sherlock Jr. in that assessment. Just when you think Lloyd has done about all he can do with this gag, he tops himself and does something even more gasp-worthy. Insta-favorite. Full review on Row Three.
1924 USA. Director: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Richard Daniels, Carleton Griffith.
Seen April 14 at the TCM Film Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 372 out of 2930
For Heaven’s Sake
My other Lloyd experience was a double feature (the other one is a bit lower on the list) Cinefamily and the Silent Treatment showed in honor of Lloyd’s April birthday. These were actually before Girl Shy, and were already enough to solidify my Lloyd fandom, I liked them so much. Particularly this one. Thoughtless millionaire Lloyd accidentally funds an inner-city mission, but his apathy turns to extreme interest when he meets the preacher’s lovely daughter. I really enjoyed this film, which has two fantastic extended chase/action sequences – one with Lloyd provoking all the street thugs he can find into chasing him right into the mission (where he wins their loyalty by nonchalantly passing the collection plate to rid them of stolen jewelry before a police search), the other with Lloyd trying to corral a group of five drunk friends and get back to the mission for his wedding. Both are filled with physical gags and insane stunts, all done with a charm and physicality that belies Lloyd’s milquetoast first impression.
1926 USA. Director: Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Noah Young.
Seen April 4 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 512 out of 2930
Cabin in the Woods
I’ve been looking forward to this Joss Whedon-penned horror film for literally years now, as it went through distributor hell along with everything else MGM owned as they fought bankruptcy. In fact, I’ve been watching its progress so long that I remember being disappointed that I was going to have to watch a horror film to keep up with Whedon, because I wasn’t into horror films yet. Thankfully by the time it came out, I had overcome that hurdle and managed to see and enjoy most of the films Cabin in the Woods references, plus this film isn’t really going for scares as much as laughs and meta in-jokes, which are precisely up my alley. I had a great time with this film, which is extremely clever in the way it plays with expectations, horror tropes, and manipulation. I won’t go as far as some in saying that revolutionizes the horror genre – it doesn’t do that so much as celebrate it, poke loving fun at it, and layer a great workplace comedy in on top of it. It’s a lark, not a deep satire, and that’s fine. I laughed a lot, gasped some, and had a ginormous smile plastered on my face the whole time.
2012 USA. Director: Drew Goddard. Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker.
Seen April 21 at AMC Burbank 16.
Flickchart ranking: 534 out of 2930