FATHER OF THE BRIDE (Vincent Minnelli, 1950) -- 2.5/4
Though Father of the Bride begins with slight, subtle jabs at bourgeois materialism and patriarchal anxiety, director Vincent Minnelli ultimately satirizes nothing, reaffirming gender and familial roles without hesitance, though he does get nice comedic turns from Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett. Elizabeth Taylor plays the spoiled wretch of a daughter - Minnelli certainly intended her character to be "cute" rather than grating.
SENSO (Luchino Visconti, 1954) -- 3.5/4
Visconti approaches sensuality like few other directors, instilling grace, quietude, and yet a palpable intensity, placing his obsessive love affair during divided political conflict. The aligning of passions (yet complete lack of histrionics, dramatics, or sentiment) forms a polyvalent narrative that denies a middlebrow purging of emotions or easily configured characters. By making Alida Valli's countess the central character, Visconti engages female desire and sexuality rather than exploiting, or rendering it subordinate. Several sequences could compete as some of the most visually compelling ever committed to film.
SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957) -- 4/4
Sweet Smell of Success features two of the greatest characters in 1950's American cinema - Tony Curtis's conniving, two-faced Sidney Falco and Burt Lancaster's J.J. Hunsecker, a domineering father-figure columnist wielding great political clout. It's what Orson Welles called "a star part," and Lancaster's mere physical presence is riveting. Moreover, these unforgettable characters are but two integral pieces in this Clifford Odets & Ernest Lehman scripted, Alexander "Sandy" Mackendrick directed film, beautifully and chillingly brought to life by Criterion's flawless release. Extras include a commentary by James Naremore and a video interview with former Mackendrick student James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma).
PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (Brian De Palma, 1974) -- 3.5/4
BDP's delirious satire of glam rock, consumerism, and, most importantly, exploitation, Phantom of the Paradise defies any brief explanation or summation - it's that subversive. Not only is it the first fully developed exemplar of everything... one thinks of as "De Palma-esque," in terms of visuals (split screen, rushing dolly's, slo-mo close-up), but a radically stated critique of cultural transience (as one record exec states about a track's lyrics, "No one cares what it's about"). Contrary to what brainless critics would have you believe, De Palma does indeed care, and his funny, shocking, brazen dose of cinematic dynamite deserves to be recognized as such, both in terms of form and content.
HE WALKED BY NIGHT (Alfred L.Werker, 1948) -- 2.5/4
Though infused with delectable mise-en-scene and an experimental narrative, this little known noir (co-directed by an uncredited Anthony Mann) is mighty stagnant as a narrative, even at its scant 80 minute run time. Part documentary, social inquiry, and fictive, dramatic recreation, Alfred Werker's film works best as a certain influence on subsequent directors who would explore the blurred lines between fact/fiction, though Werker owes quite a debt to Fritz Lang, himself.
THE BIG CLOCK (John Farrow, 1948) -- 2.5/4
Charles Laughton's menacing, often hysterical turn as a Kane-esque publishing tycoon is the highlight of John Farrow's nicely put together thriller, deftly integrating slight humor and a fairly routine innocent-man-framed-for-murder narrative. Routine, because Farrow spins a good old yarn rather than tackling the larger question of geopolitical capital (other than a great bit of titular iconography), which would certainly have been a ripe subject for biting satire. Instead, Ray Milland sprints around trying to shake the frame-up and it's good for generic sequences, but lacking if loftier aspirations are desired.
THEM! (Gordon Douglas, 1954) -- 2.5/4
"Classic" only in the sense that it was among the first sci-fi films to deal with radiation paranoia, Gordon Douglas' giant ant pic must be seen as the inception of nearly half a century of shitty creature/disaster flicks - all of which followed Them!'s middlebrow template (except for Verhoeven's unrivaled masterpiece Starship Troopers). A shallow allegory and creaky dramatics all around, the loss of this entire sub-genre wouldn't be too terribly upsetting to film history.