- Floating Weeds
- The 400 Blows
- Hiroshima, Mon Amour
- Flame Over India
- Rio Bravo
- Ballad Of A Soldier
- North By Northwest
- General Della Rovere
- The World Of Apu
Oscar may have honored him for his work as a stoic soldier, but my love of Alec Guinness comes more into play when I watch his outlandish performances, either as a comic genius or as a dramatic firebrand. The year after his win would see his terrific work in Tunes Of Glory, but 1959 features him doing such marvelous work with the last of the Carol Reed-Graham Greene collaborations, Our Man In Havana. While movies like Kind Hearts And Coronets and The Ladykillers gave him the opportunity to explore characters through makeup and costume disguises, this one has him stripped down to the bare essentials; he’s just his plain old self, and he’s fascinating at it.
I suppose this one should actually go to director Billy Wilder; by all accounts, Marilyn Monroe was so bombed on the set of Some Like It Hot that very simple scenes with very simple lines had to be filmed an astronomical number of times (there’s a great scene in the television film Norma Jean and Marilyn where Mira Sorvino as Monroe needs to have her lines taped to the furniture). It doesn’t show at all in the film; her Sugar is one of Monroe’s most endearing and indelible creations, and her delivery of the witty dialogue is perfect throughout the entire film. Its status as one of the greatest comedies ever made is somewhat overstated, but the performances are all gems, and Monroe justifies her position in the history books.
Walter Brennan was the film world’s favourite old coot; he was so good at it, he actually started playing them long before he actually was one (something about his face and his teeth made him seem like an old man before his time). He won three Academy Awards for his work, a record he held alone until 1968 and wasn’t beaten until 1981, but for some reason, by the time he actually became his own creation, his work was no longer being applauded by the trophy givers. My favourite performance by him is in the classic Howard Hawks western Rio Bravo, as the mother hen who does his best to keep dad John Wayne and mom Dean Martin unsuccessfully in line.
Rio Bravo is a great western with an even greater gal. While most films are happy to have the opposition of the virgin and the hooker with the heart of gold, Hawks’ usual habit of gender-bending features a really butch gal who gets around and doesn’t suffer for it. In the role, Angie Dickinson is sexy, savvy and comes off quite the classy dame.
I simply cannot get enough of Yasujiro Ozu; my second favourite of his films is the masterful Floating Weeds, a dazzling film he shot in colour about a travelling actor who visits the hometown where his estranged mistress has been raising their illegitimate son. Every shot is a pleasure to the eye, and it is quite funny, but there is plenty of sorrowful pathos as well; some critics prefer his earlier silent version, but I think this one is perfection.