Genre: Musical Mystery
Director: Mitchell Leisen (Death Takes a Holiday)
Starring: Carl Brisson, Victor McLaglen, Jack Oakie, Kitty Carlisle, Duke Ellington and His OrchestraIn Brief: A purely delightful pre-Code oddity, Paramount's Murder at the Vanities (1934) is all but unknown today — not in the least because it got very little TV play, thanks to its skimpy costumes and the song "Marihuana." It's a backstage murder mystery that unfolds in real-time during a musical revue. Director Mitchell Leisen keeps the whole thing going at breakneck speed with atmosphere and production gloss. All in all, it's one of the best little movies you've probably never heard of.
Director: George Marshall (The Ghost Breakers)
Starring: Fred MacMurray, Helen Walker, Marjorie Main, Jean Heather, Porter Hall, Peter WhitneyIn Brief: Breezy, unpretentious fun about a hapless pollster who finds himself at the mercy of a family of homicidal hillbillies. This is the kind of slick fun that studios turned out with pleasing regularity in the 1940s — unassuming, but intelligently crafted nonsense meant to offer nothing more than 90 minutes of entertainment. Viewers who think of Fred MacMurray strictly from My Three Sons and Disney movies are in for a surprise.
Genre: Comedy Melodrama
Director: George Cukor (The Philadelphia Story)
Starring: Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Billie Burke, Edmund LoweIn Brief: Having made a huge success of its first all-star film, Grand Hotel (1932), naturally MGM would attempt a follow-up in the same style. To this end, the studio bought George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's play Dinner at Eight, filled it with stars (some from Grand Hotel), laid on the production values and came up with a film nearly as good as its predecessor. Some would even say it's superior.
Genre: Musical Comedy
Director: Robert Altman
Starring: Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Ray Walston, Paul Dooley, Paul L. Smith, Richard LibertiniIn Brief: Robert Altman's big-budgeted, live-action take on Popeye pulls off the not inconsiderable feat of being both true to the character from the old Max Fleischer cartoons, while being slyly revisionist in the bargain. Jules Feiffer's screenplay — and Robin Williams' ad-libbing — really catches the spirit of the title character, while Altman effortlessly makes the equivalent of a cartoon with live actors. Harry Nilsson's charmingly rather shapeless songs capture the tone.
Genre: Science Fiction
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard RossiterIn Brief: To say that Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film is almost beyond criticism is misleading, but not entirely untrue. No matter how you feel about 2001: A Space Odyssey, it's just too big to ignore. It presents the viewer with a mystery that can be interpreted and explored, but never actually solved — and in so doing becomes the cinematic equivalent of pondering the universe. It is a unique film event — and one that perhaps only completely works on the big screen, which this showing allows viewers the chance to experience. There had never been anything like it before and there's been nothing like it since.
Genre: Musical Comedy
Director: Walter Lang
Starring: Ethel Merman, Donald O'Connor, Vera-Ellen, George Sanders, Billy De WolfeIn Brief: Bright and breezy film version of the Irving Berlin stage hit starring Ethel Merman. While it's not what you'd call inspired filmmaking, it's filled with terrific songs, funny lines and clever situations. It's also the only film to give us any real sense of what made Merman such a sensation on the stage. (And, yes, that is George Sanders doing his own singing.)
Director: Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front)
Starring: Al Jolson, Madge Evans, Frank Morgan, Harry Langdon, Edgar ConnorIn Brief: An array of Rodgers and Hart songs, the great Al Jolson (in probably his best film performance) and the seemingly endless creativity of director Lewis Milestone come together to make Hallelujah, I'm a Bum one of the most intriguing of all Depression-era musicals — not in the least because it actually addresses the Depression. There really is no other film like it.
Genre: Musical Comedy
Director: Peter Bogdanovich (What's Up, Doc?)
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Cybill Shepherd, Madeline Kahn, Duilio Del Prete, Eileen Brennan, John HillermanIn Brief: While it may fall short of being an overlooked classic, Peter Bogdanovich's extremely ambitious 1975 musical comedy is far from being the train wreck that is casually assumed (usually by people who haven't seen it). Bogdanovich's idea was to craft something like an Ernst Lubitsch musical — but one packed with Cole Porter songs, so that the film sang more than it spoke. Audiences were puzzled by and unprepared for it. Worse, the cast was not made up of professional singers — and the idea that the songs were sung perfectly well "in character" seemed to occur to almost no one. Unavailable for years, the film is ripe for rediscovery.
Genre: Suspense Thriller
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Martin LandauIn Brief: Alfred Hitchcock's final film of the 1950s marked his last collaboration with star Cary Grant. It's also the director's ultimate movie about an innocent man on the run for a crime he didn't commit — and is by far the most elaborate variation on that concept. Whether or not North by Northwest is the best of those films is very much a subjective call, but there's no denying that it's big, glossy entertainment — easily the most action-driven of Hitchcock's career — with classic set-pieces aplenty, perfect leads, a thrilling Bernard Herrmann musical score and "Master of Suspense" Hitch at the top of his later-era game.
Genre: Comedy Drama
Director: Wesley Ruggles (I'm No Angel)
Starring: Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Dorothy Mackaill, Grant Mitchell, Elizabeth PattersonIn Brief: Clark Gable plays a gambler hiding out from the law in some upstate New York podunk town where he meets Carole Lombard, a bored, romance-starved librarian. She's interested but wary. He's determined — so determined that he agrees to marry her on a bet. Complications ensue in this pleasant comedy made several years before the two stars would become the Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood of legend. But the chemistry, or at least flashes of it, are already there.
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