Over Thanksgiving my family and I watched some old movies. First we watched The Brood, which was my suggestion. I talked it about here sometime last year. I love it; it’s very much a B-movie but it’s possibly Cronenberg’s most disturbing use of body horror, and the climax is nail-bitingly tense.
Next we watched Vertigo, which my sister and I hadn’t seen before. It’s now my favorite Hitchcock after Rear Window. I love the weird psychosexual stuff going on just below the surface, and how it’s about a man losing his mind because he’s in love with an illusion he can’t have and which never existed in the first place. The trippy fever dream part is awesome and is a lot more daring and visually striking than many similar scenes in more recent films. It’s clear why this is a favorite of my favorite director, David Lynch. (For fellow Twin Peaks fans, he got the names for Maddie Ferguson, Judy, and Sarah Palmer’s maiden name (“Novak”) from this film, and his movies often feature blonde and brunette female doppelgangers.)
The last movie we watched was Sweet Smell of Success, a black and white 50s noir. It’s in my Dad’s Top 5; he calls it the most cynical movie ever made. After seeing it myself I think there’s a strong case for that. The movie stars Burt Lancaster (in what my Dad says is his best role) and Tony Curtis. Curtis plays a sleazy press agent who feeds info to Lancaster’s gossip column, which is so widely read that he wields influence in Washington. Lancaster hires Curtis to break up his younger sister’s relationship with her fiance because he can’t stand to lose her. They live together and Lancaster is able to control her every move, but her fiance threatens that. The movie follows Curtis and Lancaster as they pile lie upon lie to manipulate and undermine this innocent young woman. It’s tough to watch but you can’t look away because of how brilliant the film is on every level: acting, writing, directing, cinematography, humor, theme, mood, rapid-fire hardboiled dialogue, etc, etc.
Lancaster’s portrayal of the columnist, J.J. Hunsecker, is a truly incredible performance, one of the best I’ve ever seen. He looks and carries himself like a military man, and every word he says and every movement he makes carries intimidating but also seductive power. Hunsecker is a man who can read a room in an instant and control it in two, and while you’re watching Lancaster you don’t doubt for a second that a newspaper columnist could have senators and businessmen groveling at his feet.
Highly, highly recommended. For Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul fans, I read that it’s Vince Gilligan’s favorite film.