The Movie That Invented The Coming of Age Genre

When a flake of snow hits UK soil – the whole island is put on hiatus. So it was pretty befitting that I’d catch up on my AFI challenge and watch a classic movie this weekend (as the inch of snow forced me to stay in),  plus I haven’t posted on here for a year and a half – so it’s about time I attempt at doing this bloody list again.

As it was Oscars weekend I thought I’d check out ‘The Graduate’ (1967: ‘98 #7, ‘03 #17).  One of the most iconic coming of age movies that was the last to win only for Best Director at the Academy awards (bit of trivia for you). And when I say this film is iconic, I mean it in every sense of the word. Even though I never had seen it before this weekend – I pretty much knew the whole plot, some of the key quotes and the soundtrack, which is why it is ranked so highly in on the 1998 and 2007 lists. But other than having a huge cultural impact, does the film have the credentials to be ranked so highly with ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941) and ‘Schindler’s List’ (1993)?

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The Graduate (1967)

The storyline is pretty straight forward; a talented graduate (Dustin Hoffman) from a middle class family, but with no sense of direction, begins an affair with an older family friend (Anne Bancroft) only to fall in love with her daughter (Katharine Ross). A tame plot by today’s standards, but Bancroft’s nude scene raised a few eyebrows at the time and age difference of 20 years between her and Hoffman’s character made the movie pretty controversial at the time. People probably wouldn’t have battered an eye lid if the male character was 20 years senior than the female. No one seemed to care when Grant was wooing a much younger Hepburn in ‘Charade’ (1963) and despite a twenty-five year age gap, Bacall and Bogart’s romance celebrated romance on and off the screen. Hypocrisy is today still prevalent as Best Picture nominee ‘Call me By Your Name’ (2017) has been criticised (by mostly straight white males, including James Wood) for the age gap of just a six years between the two gay characters. But star of the Academy Award winning film Armie Hammer brilliantly highlighted our double standard society by kindly reminding Woods that he dated a 19 year old when he was 60.

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Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman

But back to ‘The Graduate’; yes, it was a risky plot at the time and yes, it perhaps invented the coming of age genre. But Hoffman’s character comes across as such a self-absorbed selfish brat who doesn’t seem to have the slightest concern his actions are destroying a family – that he is hard to like. That being said Hoffman plays the part brilliantly and his awkwardness brings in subtle comedy to the movie. He even at times, when not being an arrogant punk, displays endearing and charming qualities of the arguably the greatest literary character of the twentieth-century; Holden Caulfield from ‘Catcher in the Rye’ (1951). In fact I’m almost certain that Benjamin Braddock was inspired by the protagonist in J.D Salinger’s masterpiece.

It’s hard to think of anyone other than super seductive Anne Bancroft playing the role of Mrs. Robinson. Her iconic husky and commanding voice brought some of the most memorable one liners to modern cinema, it’s crazy that the role could have gone to Joan Crawford or ‘Murder She Wrote’ star Angela Lansbury. At times Mrs. Robinson can be a bit annoying and her nonchalant attitude at the beginning of the movie makes it hard for you to have empathy for her. But toward the end of the film, you definitely see her more as a victim and can sympathise with her for having a loveless marriage.

‘The Graduate’ trailer

The unforgettable ending, which has probably been recreated by every soap in the last fifty-years (as well as famous Renault Clio advert from the 90s) alone qualifies the classic to be in AFI top 100 films of all time, but it is suited to its 2007 ranking of #17 rather than top ten position in the 1998 list.

For its superb cast, iconic quotes, invention of the coming of age genre and soundtrack that sets the mood for the movie – I give ‘The Graduate’ 4 out of 5.

 

 

The Biggest Romantic Movie of All Time That No One Had Faith In

It’s been a while since I made my last post, but don’t worry I haven’t given up on my AFI Challenge which looks set to take longer than I thought. The truth is I’ve been pretty lazy over the last few months being a man of leisure. But I have managed to catch the ultimate classic movie whilst on my way to Kenya on my first African visit.

The best thing about flying (other than the beaming obvious trip to a destination that is guaranteed to be at least five degrees warmer than London) is I get to catch up on movies I haven’t watched yet as there is pretty much nothing else to do. Despite being a big classic movie fan (who would have thought it) the idea of sitting through more than three hours of Charlton Heston’s overacting in ‘Ben Hur’ doesn’t always fill me with the most excitement. With plane TV screens you feel obliged to watch a movie from start to finish to feel like you are making most of your time in the air. I kind of feel like Malcolm McDowell in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ when his eyes were clamped open when watching the small screen on aircrafts, but with less agony.

I managed to catch some new releases that I wouldn’t dream of watching in the cinema like ‘Southpaw’ which although had an extremely cliché and predictable storyline it had a heartfelt performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. Kenya Airways had a questionable classic movie category in their inflight entertainment, which included masterpieces like the intellectually simulating ‘The Hangover’, but I think they used the term loosely to describe anything that wasn’t released within last twelve months. They got it right with two movies – ‘Northby Northwest’ (1959, AFI 1998 #40, 2007 #55) and ‘Casablanca’ (1942, AFI: 1998 #2, 2007 #3) – I’ve seen these bonafide classic movies before, but as I’ve already reviewed the Hitchcock masterpiece I thought I’d re-familiarise regularly with the most famous romantic movie of all time.

7oth Anniversary trailer for ‘Casablanca’

It’s hard to believe that the most iconic on screen romance all time was considered a side project for movie executives at Warner Bros – despite the flick having two of the biggest stars at the time Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman insiders thought it wouldn’t be a hit – there were even rumours that the script was incomplete when filming and so at times the actors had to improvise – with the huge budgets Hollywood films have nowadays this would simply be unheard of.  So why did this film with a relatively straight forward storyline, which was filmed mostly in a bar and one that people that little expectations of become the greatest love story of all time?

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Bogart must choose between his former lover and helping her husband

The movie which was directed by Michael Curtiz tells the story of American expatriate (Rick Blaine played by Bogart) who runs a successful casino and nightclub in Casablanca during World War Two. His world turns upside down when his former lover Ilsa Lund (Bergman) comes back into his life after abandoning him without explanation, but this time she is with her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) who is a notorious Czech-resistance leader on the run from the Nazis. Blaine must decide whether to help this man escape or to be with the woman he loves.

For me it’s pretty hard to pinpoint what made this black and white classic such a timeless piece that people of all ages flock to see when played at the outdoor cinema at Somerset House every summer over other romantic masterpieces such as ‘It Happened in One Night’ (1934, AFI 1998 #35, 2007 #46)? Bogart’s cool portrayal of selfless Rick Blaine is so memorable and the character is so likable that the AFI voted him as the fourth greatest hero on the big screen – which definitely separates this movie from other romances over the years. The movie is far from cheesy or soppy and although I’m not a huge fan of Bergman (who looks like she is about to burst into tears in every scene) you can’t deny the chemistry between the who main leads. This along with the beautiful theme song ‘As time goes by’ and the famous, sharp and witty one liners (“Here’s looking a you kid”, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, “We will always have Paris” (is this were the silly American romantic obsession with Paris began?),  “Of all the Gin Joints..”) makes ‘Casablanca’ pretty much a perfect movie – the blueprint for all romances that followed over the last 70 years.

The most famous lines from ‘Casablanca’

The movie which is a concise 108 minutes makes this classic pretty easy viewing compared to ‘Gone with The Wind” (1939, AFI 1998 #4, 2007 #6) or ‘Giant” (1956, AFI 1998 #82) where you have to invest your whole afternoon watching is perhaps another reason why people revisit this romance year after year. I give this culturally significant and iconic movie a 5 out of 5.

 

 

 

 

How James Dean’s 7 Hours On The Big Screen Made A Lasting Impact

The last day of September this year marked the sixtieth anniversary of the death of on one of the most iconic movie stars to ever grace the screen. I arguably use ‘iconic’ loosely when writing up my experiences of doing the American Film Institute challenge, but James Dean is the epitome of a movie star – even his death from a tragic head on car collision at the age of twenty-four is legendary. People to this day pay their respects to the site where he died in California and I can bet that a large majority of those visitors have never seen a film he had starred in.

Dean was a fan of fast cars

What made this film star who only managed to do three movies in his lifetime and never won an Oscar remembered by critics and the public as one of the all time greats? Two of his movies were featured in the AFI top 100 movies of all time list and he even managed to bag himself a spot in the Top 25 male stars of the Golden Age where he is in the company of much more prolific stars like Humphrey Bogart and James Stewart whose body of work over the years earned them a place on the list. But what separates James Dean from these Hollywood heavyweights is that I can almost guarantee that a casual movie fan will know who Dean is and there is a fair chance they will not have a clue about Bogart or Stewart unless you mention ‘Casablanca’ (1942: AFI 1998#2, 2007 #3) or ‘It’s a Wonderful life’ (1946: AFI 1998 #11, 2007 #20).

It’s a mixture of things that has given James Dean immortality and placed him in the consciousness of all popular culture fans:

1. Firstly like Peter Pan he never grew old – he will always be known for good looking and cool outsider in his most famous role ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ (1955: AFI 1998 #59) and not that difficult and eccentric overweight actor who didn’t bother to learn his lines that Brando became later in his career.

2. He had a timeless style – you could never go wrong with a pair of Levis, a white t-shirt and slick back hair. Unlike stars of the 80’s who had mullets or ridiculously long side burns from the 70s, actors from the 50s had a cool and classic style. James Dean’s look was never dated which is why he is still so marketable and his pictures would not look out-of-place on a teenage girls bedroom wall along with the Channing Tatums and Zac Efrons of today.

3. Finally he was a damn good actor – Although he never received an Academy Award he was nominated twice for East of Eden (1955) and for Giant (1956: AFI: 1998 #82). His portrayal of troubled Jett Rink in ‘Giant’ who was infatuated with Elizabeth Taylor’s character was intense, powerful and showcased his natural acting ability.

Unfortunately Dean would not be able to see the final product of his epic and perhaps most ambitious film as he died before the film was released. But luckily he managed to complete the film co-starring Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor who were bigger and better known actors at the time. The media hype surrounding Dean’s death propelled the movie to be a huge hit when it was released a year later. The American drama tells the tale of a wealthy Texan family in the 1920s until the Second World War. Dean plays a handyman hired by the Hudson and he soon becomes obsessed with his wife played by Taylor – a love triangle develops and things get more complicated when Dean discovers oil on his small plot of land and becomes filthy rich.

struck it rich!: James Dean in ‘Giant’

I didn’t know much about the plot before I convinced my mum she would like it and to watch it with me, but feared it could have been a Western (you know how I hate those). Thankfully it wasn’t and at times it reminded me of ‘Gone With The Wind’ (1939: AFI 1998 #4 2007 #6) for its elaborate storytelling and like the seminal movie starring Clarke Gable you need to set aside the whole morning to complete the movie. The story even highlights racism Mexican immigrants faced in the USA during the first half of the Twentieth Century which often gets overlooked in Hollywood. For the ambitious screenplay, excellent cast and getting a glimpse of how Dean would have looked when he was older I give the movie a 5 out of 5.

Elizabeth Taylor speaks about ‘Giant’ co-stars Dean and Hudson

In contrast ‘A Rebel Without A Cause’ ensures Dean remains youthful as teenager Jim Stark who has trouble fitting into his new high school. He clashes with popular students which results in the famous car race scene that has been redone a thousand times by copycat movies. The chemistry between Natalie Wood and Dean is perhaps more convincing than with Taylor in ‘Giant’.

The movie oozes iconic from the famous ‘tearing me apart’ scene in the police station to the episode in the cinema – it is clear that this film was the prototype of the countless teenager rebellion movies that were released over the last sixty-years. I would argue that Dean’s depiction of complex and perhaps mentally unstable Stark was his most challenging role. This flick is a must see for any fan of cinema – it’s beautifully shot, acted and highly influential – for this reason I also give it 5 out of 5.

A Rebel Without A Cause Trailer

James Dean never got the chance to branch out and attempt roles outside his comfort zone (he seemed to always play the underdog with an emotional past) but to be fair he never had the chance to step outside the box. Would he have been a great musical star or action hero? We will never know, but he has left a huge impact on films and popular culture that most actors would struggle their whole career to achieve and so his films deserve their place on all time great lists.

James Dean and Natalie Wood play troubled teenagers in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’

Bank holiday movie mayhem!

In the U.K. over the past weekend we have been celebrating our first Bank Holiday weekend of the summer – and you know what that means? More classic movies on T.V. It seems like the perfect time for television stations to put on a matinee for people to reminisce about yesteryear, I’m an oldie at heart so I welcome a black and white noir over a Transformers/Avengers/Captain America (they are depressingly all the same to me) action nonsense any day.

Unfortunately I only managed to catch one film on ‘MORE 4’, but it is considered an absolute classic, starring two of cinema history’s most prolific actors, in fact they were both listed as the ultimate screen legends of by AFI – Humphry Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in ‘African Queen’ (#17 in 1998, #65 in 2007). The announcer even stated that “You don’t get more A-lister” than these two when introducing the movie directed by the equally iconic John Huston. So I was definitely hyped up, this is going to be great I thought. So I sat down just before midday on a lazy Sunday morning to watch two veterans act their heart out.

Screen legends Hepburn & Bogart

The thing that strikes me most about the movie is that it is a lot more vintage than it seems, maybe because it is shot in Technicolor or maybe because it was shot on location outside the States or Europe which was unusual for 1951. It was made only a year after ‘All about Eve’ and ‘Sunset Boulevard’ which seems like a lifetime ago when you watch it. Perhaps the modern feel is contributed to the fact that the black actors (or extras) where not playing domestic staff which is what they seemed to have done in most films pre-1960.

The movie is made well; I particularly like the opening scene where Hepburn and onscreen brother Robert Morley who are missionaries unsuccessfully attempt to get local villages to sing hymns with them. They are cramped in a hot and stuffy ‘church’ with traditional tribal wear on and it is evident they don’t know any English and are there against their own will. The noises they make whilst trying to ‘sing’ is pretty horrendous but the scene is striking as Huston’s close shot of the tribal people who are half naked is a complete contrast to the pristine English middle class demeanour of Hepburn and Morley. It is ironic that these people who are ‘trying’ to help attempt to shoot them later in the movie. The film must have opened audiences in 1950s America to a whole new culture they’d never experienced.

It nice to see Bogie in a colour film, one of the few he did before his untimely death a few years later and he thoroughly deserved his Oscar, surprisingly his only one – perhaps the Academy felt guilty about not giving him one for ‘The Maltese Falcon’ or ‘Casablanca’ so they felt obliged to give it this time. If they gave one to Sinatra it was only right that the founder of the Rat Pack got one too. Nevertheless the film has cemented it’s self as one of the most culturally significant movies of all time, beautifully shot with superb acting – it definitely deserves its place on the AFI 100 movie list.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that parts of the film were shot at Isleworth Studios, which is my home town in London and now sadly a block of flats. I told my family about this and my brother said Bogie and Hepburn “where probably chilling in a café somewhere down the road”. A thrilling thought!

Watch Bogart win his Best Actor Oscar