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The Arrangement Review

The poster proclaims: "If your wife insists you see it together, be careful." It's one of the most hyperbolic taglines in movie history. Despite its slam-bang opening sequence, Elia Kazan's neglected movie (based on his own novel) eventually devolves into histrionics and silliness. Its strange third act almost kills the deal entirely. See if you agree.

The film opens as obviously mega-wealthy advertising executive Eddie (Kirk Douglas) wakes up and, silently, prepares for work. He frequently checks in to listen to his latest creation -- an ad for Zephyr cigarettes -- as he motors along to work. But suddenly, he decides to take his hands off the steering wheel. Then he puts them back on... and slams the car under the wheels of a tractor trailer riding alongside him. What the heck!?

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Ziegfeld Follies Review

Who knew they made clip shows into movies? Ziegfeld Follies is two hours of skits, songs, dances, and jokes from the dying days of vaudeville, brought to us by a who's-who of yesteryear performers. The film opens, believe it or not, with a deceased Florenz Ziegfeld, looking down from heaven, dreaming about his perfect variety show. What follows is that dream, put to film.

With a tagline like "The Greatest Production Since The Birth Of Motion Pictures," you get a little something like the unmanageable monstrosity that Follies ultimately becomes. Structured as a series of unrelated vignettes, directed by different people (not to mention that screenwriting credit list), it's ultimately just a jumble of parts that add up to less than a whole movie.

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The Parallax View Review

Stylish yet devilishly confusing, this film has Warren Beatty as an investigative reporter trying to hunt down a conspiracy that begins with the death of a congressman and continues with the deaths of his reporter friends that are snooping into the affair. Beatty uncovers a company behind it all called the Parallax Corporation (think Scientology meets The Manchurian Candidate), which may be a kind of temp agency for assassins. Naturally, he applies for membership, getting in far deeper than he ever realized. Dreamily designed and archly retro, I had to watch bits and pieces three or four times just to put it all together.

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Cleopatra (1963) Review

It is virtually impossible to separate Cleopatra the movie from Cleopatra the spectacle -- and that's because they are truly and rarely intertwined.

A legend of Hollywood, the 1963 production of Cleopatra has so much curiosity surrounding it I hardly know where to start. It was budgeted at $2 million and eventually cost (up to) $44 million to produce -- close to $300 million in today's dollars. Liz Taylor almost died during the filming and was given a tracheotomy to keep her alive. The production was forced to move from Rome to London and back to Rome again. Two of its stars fell in love (Taylor and Burton) on the set, ruining both of their marriages. 20th Century Fox essentially went bankrupt, leading to the ousting of its chief. The first director was fired after burning $7 million with nothing to show for it. The second director (Mankiewicz) was fired during editing, only to be rehired when no one else could finish the picture. Taylor threw up the first time she saw the finished product. Producer Walter Wanger never worked in Hollywood again. And the original six-hour epic was cut to a little over three.

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Brewster's Millions Review

A guilty pleasure from my childhood, Brewster's Millions is based on an ancient novel. In fact, it's at least the fifth adaptation of the old novel by the same name -- only the spending money is more and more each time.

What money is that? Oh, just $30 million, left to Montgomery Brewster (Richard Pryor) by his sole relative. The catch? The real inheritance is $300 million -- and if Monty wants it, he has to spend the $30 million in 30 days, and at the end of that time he can't have any assets to show for it. Oh, and he can't tell anyone what's going on, either.

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The World According To Garp Review

This film, the second in Williams' career, has an interesting start, tracing the life of a young bastard with a stern nurse for a mother. But when mother becomes a feminist icon and people start getting shot, Garp gets a little preachy -- okay, a lot preachy -- and ultimately loses its charm.

Rope Review

Along with The Birds and Psycho, Rope was one of the very first Hitchcock films I saw as a kid -- a dusty old videotape sitting on a shelf with an odd title scrawled on its edge. I loved it then and still have a fond memory for the film, which led me to explore nearly 50 pictures from the Master of Suspense.

Rope is a complex and dazzlingly unique picture. Subversively based on the Leopold and Loeb murder case, it presents us with two boys (Dall and Granger) who have been taught by their old headmaster (Stewart) in the Nietzchian philosophies of the Superman and the unimportance of the lives of simpler people. Dall masterminds a plot and Granger follows as his half-willing pull-toy; together they strangle a mutual friend, dump his body in a chest, and throw a party for his father -- serving a buffet from his makeshift casket.

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Marvin's Room Review

This weepfest really pulls out all the stops: Not only is Meryl's sister (Diane Keaton) dying of leukemia, her dad's (Hume Cronyn) almost a vegatable, and her son's (Leonardo DiCaprio) a rotten pyromaniac. Poor Meryl. There's a lot of talent that elevates this being movie of the week material, but it's still hard to be thrilled by the melodratic histrionics, Leo or no. Family angst and reconciliation... bleargh. More than anything, though, I wonder who would want to go see the play this was based on?

Lifeboat Review

Who would've pegged Alfred Hitchcock for a moral humanist? An appeal to our common humanism is not something we associate with a man whose métier was the psychological horrors perverting the patina of the white middle class. Lifeboat, then, is a rare instance (along with Foreign Correspondent and Saboteur, also from this period) in the 51-year directing career of the legendary suspense-master of socially conscious storytelling. In Francois Truffaut's famous interview with him, transcribed in Hitchcock/Truffaut, the director recounts how he intended Lifeboat to be a microcosm of the Allied war effort. Working from a story treatment by John Steinbeck and a script by Jo Swerling, Lifeboat became the director's appeal to the Allied nations to put their differences and personal biases aside, join ranks, and fight the Nazis, then overrunning Europe, as a coordinated, united force.

As a polemic, Lifeboat is closer to John Ford's similarly themed and conceived Stagecoach (1939) than to any of the director's own movies. Hitchcock changes the terrain from land to water and replaces Fords' frontier travelers with the similarly disparate survivors of a U-boat attack. We have John (John Hodiak), a working-class American stiff pitted against Rittenhouse (Henry Hull), the inveterate capitalist (read: Nazi appeaser), and Constance Porter (Tallulah Bankhead), a saucy gadfly/columnist. Meanwhile, a gentle romance simmers between Alice (Mary Anderson), a lovelorn nurse, and Stanley (Hume Cronyn), a humble navigator. George (Canada Lee), a black cook (what else?) with a penchant for the Gospels stands as the group's moral pillar; he is apolitical and totally good-hearted. Hitchcock gives an episodic shape to Swerling's flailing narrative, focusing on the survivors' attempts to rescue one of their own, the wounded and mentally faltering Gus (William Bendix). As they do, they battle the stormy elements, the scorn and suspicion for each other that society has ingrained into them, and, chiefly, their collective mistrust for a Nazi U-boat sailor who's also in the dinghy, and in whom, despite his villainous credentials, they must invest their faith.

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Shadow Of A Doubt Review

A minor classic in the Hitchcock library, Shadow of a Doubt is nonetheless a smashing film, a slow burn that involves the visit to town of Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten), who may or may not be the Merry Widow Murderer, a dashing villain who murders old women for their fortunes.

On the run, Charlie decides to hide out in sleepy Santa Rosa, a town that's not much different today than it was in Hitch's 1940s. His visit goes smoothly until a nosy cop and Charlie's inquisitive niece who is named after him (Theresa Wright) get all uppity and go snooping through Charlie's things. Before long, the jig is up.

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The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) Review

Lana Turner - or, more precisely, her legs - are the star of the first film adaptation of James M. Cain's classic novel, released in 1946. Frank Chambers, a restless drifter, arrives in a roadside restaurant run by Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway). A tube of lipstick drops from the counter and rolls slowly to the feet of Nick's wife Cora (Turner). So begins one of the most lascivious upward pans of '30s and '40s film, climbing up Turner's legs and torso to her lit-from-the-inside golden-tressed face. There's more eroticism in that moment than in most of Bob Rafelson's ill-advised 1981 remake, which pretended to be a sexier, lustier adaptation.

The plot of Postman is, indeed, sexier than usual - the perceived naughtiness of Cain's original, excellent novel got it a "Banned in Boston" stamp. But toned down for the screen, Postman is mainly an excellent noir that's fueled by one of John Garfield's best performances. As Frank and Cora fall deeper into their romance, they begin to plan doing away with Nick. The first attempt sadly and (thanks to a clumsy shot of an electrocuted cat) hilariously fails to take, but the second works out ghoulishly. From there, the story becomes a noir classic of shifting loyalties, betrayal, and paranoia. Few actors of the time were as good as portraying the decent man in a conundrum, but there's something about the combination of Garfield's mannish broad shoulders and childish eyes that make him perfect for noirs. Body and Soul is his finest hour, but Postman is worth Garfield as well.

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