#264) Frank Film (1973)

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#264) Frank Film (1973)

OR “The F Words”

Directed by Frank & Caroline Mouris

Written by Frank Mouris

Class of 1996

The Plot: Animator Frank Mouris narrates his life story while at the same time a second recording plays of Frank delivering a stream-of-consciousness series of words, most of them beginning with F. As both recordings play, a split-second barrage of found images associated with the narrations flash across the screen. Co-directed by his wife Caroline, and featuring a soundtrack by Tony Schwartz, Frank Mouris found a way to make people actually want to hear your life story.

Why It Matters: The NFR gives a synopsis and mentions the film’s standing as an Oscar winner, and that’s it.

But Does It Really?: Oh alright, but just barely. Watching it will give you a bit of a headache, but “Frank Film” is entertaining and just as worthy of NFR recognition as any of the other crazy shorts on this list.

Shout Outs: A brief mention is made to “Frankenstein” with Boris Karloff’s version of the monster making a quick appearance.

Everybody Gets One: Everything you need to know about Frank Mouris he tells you in the movie. Composer Tony Schwartz’s best known work is his contribution to the Lyndon Johnson “Daisy” campaign ad.

Wow, That’s Dated: Are collages dated? I feel like the art of gathering photos and rearranging them as art has gone digital.

Seriously, Oscars?: “Frank Film” is one of only six Best Animated Short Oscar winners to appear on the NFR. Due to Oscar eligibility guidelines of the time, only Frank received the award, and I’m sure Caroline never let him hear the end of that.

Other notes

  • Did Frank know he needed the visuals to spice up his story?
  • During one of the film’s alliterative runs, Frank says “Phi Beta Kappa”. Foul!
  • This is one of the few movies to correctly predict its own Oscar win.
  • I just still can’t get over the fact that one man collected all of these photos. There must be thousands in this short alone. Well, I guess everyone has a hobby. Some people cut out magazine photos, some people blog about their movie-watching experience…

Legacy/Further Viewing

  • Frank and Caroline Mouris have made several animated shorts together, including the 1998 follow-up “Frankly Caroline”.
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#263) North by Northwest (1959)

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#263) North by Northwest (1959)

OR “Did Somebody Say MacGuffin?”

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Written by Ernest Lehman

Class of 1995

The Plot: Madison Avenue exec Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) leads “too dull a life” until the day he is abducted by two thugs who think he’s FBI agent George Kaplan, hot on the heels of their boss, Phillip Vandamm (James Mason). After thwarting Vandamm’s attempt on his life, Thornhill vows to find the elusive Kaplan to set everything straight. Thornhill’s cross-country travels involve a murder at the United Nations, a train rendezvous with the seemingly innocent Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), a brush with a deadly crop-duster, and a very intimate tour of Mount Rushmore.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “one of [Hitchcock’s] most stylish and entertaining thrillers”, praising Hitch, Ernest Lehman, and Bernard Herrmann along the way. There’s also an essay by Hitchcock expert Thomas Leitch.

But Does It Really?: Lehman set out to write “the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures” and that’s exactly what he did. “North by Northwest” is everything you want from a Hitchcock thriller: big stars, great dialogue, wonderful action, and plenty of memorable moments. It’s not as artsy as “Vertigo” or as thrilling as “Psycho”, but “North by Northwest” is prime classic Hitchcock, and a no-brainer for NFR inclusion.

Shout Outs: Not necessarily a reference, but Thornhill whistles “Singin’ in the Rain” while in the shower, and this is an MGM movie after all.

Everybody Gets One: Future Oscar Winner Martin Landau opted to subtly play henchman Leonard as gay, a choice supported by Hitchcock and Lehman, who added Leonard’s line “Call it my woman’s intuition.”

Wow, That’s Dated: References to the Cold War and Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, plus a shout-out to Charles Addams before the Addams Family was known outside a New Yorker subscription.

Take a Shot: No one says the title, nor does it have any connection to the events in the film (Thornhill’s overall route is more west-southwest). Hitchcock and Lehman intended “North by Northwest” to be a working title until they came up with something better.

Seriously, Oscars?: Like many a Hitchcock film before and after, “North by Northwest” lost all three of its Oscar nominations. Art Direction and Editing went to that year’s juggernaut “Ben-Hur”, while Lehman’s Original Screenplay nod went to…“Pillow Talk”? This is why we can’t have nice things.

Other notes

  • Saul Bass, you’ve done it again! Those credits are perfection, and the Bernard Herrmann score is the icing on the cake.
  • Sorry Hitch, this bus is for non-creeps only.
  • Cary Grant is just so natural on screen. No wonder he never won an Oscar; you can’t “see” the acting.
  • It’s a Most Unusual Day”? Real subtle, everyone.
  • Most of this write-up will just be me praising the screenplay. Lehman wastes no time getting to the first plot point. You meet Thornhill, get a minimum amount of exposition, and then you’re thrown right into the action.
  • Hitch finally took the suggestion from “Rope” and cast James Mason as the bad guy. Vandamm doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but Mason’s established screen persona carries most of the weight.
  • Thornhill never says the name of the show he has tickets for, but in the summer of 1958 the Winter Garden was housing “West Side Story”. Get it?
  • Why is Roger the same age as his mom? Hitchcock!
  • Kaplan has dandruff.
  • The UN forbade Hitchcock from filming on their premises, so the shot of Thornhill walking up the front steps was filmed discreetly from a van parked across the street. Look closely for one pedestrian who recognizes Cary Grant.
  • The 20th Century Limited is still running back now! Say hi to Carole Lombard for me!
  • We got us another readout on the Michael Douglas Scale. Cary Grant was 20 years older than Eva Marie Saint, though Grant would later admit to being embarrassed about getting the girl in his older age.
  • The censors had problems with Leonard’s very understated homosexuality, but kept most of Roger and Eve’s (hetero)sexually charged dialogue intact. Aren’t double standards great?
  • Best line in the movie: “It’s going to be a long night, and I don’t particularly like the book I’ve started.”
  • Eva Marie Saint should have been the sexy lead in a lot more movies. Hell, she’s still going strong, let’s make it happen!
  • The crop-duster scene is iconic for a reason. In addition to the brilliantly suspenseful silence leading up to the moment, the stunt itself still resonates because it’s actually happening. That’s really Cary Grant running away from a real biplane. The movies don’t get much better than this.
  • Was Cary Grant the first person to walk away from an explosion in a movie?
  • Vandamm suggests the FBI needs more training from the Actors Studio. Perhaps Eve and Leonard can help.
  • The Professor refers to Vandamm as an “importer-exporter”. Like Art Vandelay!
  • Why is Lincoln so far removed from the other three presidents on Mount Rushmore? And when are they gonna finish that damn thing?
  • Everyone’s favorite child extra: In the Mount Rushmore cafeteria, watch for the kid who covers his ears before the gun goes off. He was paying attention during rehearsal; he knows what’s up.
  • Why are Roger and Eve meeting up on the “Sound of Music” set?
  • Despite all of this film’s positive attributes, the climactic chase across Mount Rushmore loses something for me. I think it’s the obvious matte paintings and set pieces that detract from my enjoyment.
  • And we end on what can only be described as the ultimate Hitchcock shot: An ordinary object turned into one giant innuendo. Goodnight, everybody!

Legacy

  • That crop-duster scene, man. Everyone has referenced it. When it’s done well it’s an homage, when not it’s a rip-off.
  • In addition to the film’s iconic imagery, Cary Grant’s gray suit was called the most influential suit in film history by a 2006 GQ.
  • Released three years before “Dr. No”, “North by Northwest” has been viewed as a template for the early Bond films. Yeah, that makes sense.
  • The only reference to this movie in “High Anxiety” is a joke about the main character’s middle name. “High Anxiety” just isn’t the bulls-eye it should have been.
  • The South by Southwest music festival got its name from this film.
  • The biopic “Hitchcock” implies that it was at the premiere of “North by Northwest” that Hitch realized his films were becoming formulaic, leading him to make “Psycho” as his next picture.
  • There’s a stage version? How?

#262) Safety Last! (1923)

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#262) Safety Last! (1923)

OR “The Edmund Hillary of Film Comedy”

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer & Sam Taylor

Written by Taylor & Hal Roach and Tim Whelan

Class of 1994

The Plot: Country boy Harold Lloyd (Harold Lloyd) leaves his small hometown of Great Bend to make it big in the city. He ends up selling fabrics at the De Vore department story, but has told his girl back home (Mildred Davis) that he is the store’s general manager. Unable to keep the ruse going much longer, Harold must come up with more money. He learns that his boss (Actor Unknown) is offering $1000 for anyone who comes up with a publicity stunt for the store. Remembering how his friend “Limpy” Bill (Bill Strother) once evaded the police by climbing the side of a building, Harold convinces Bill to repeat the stunt at De Vore’s. After a series of comedic circumstances, Harold must scale the building himself, even if it means iconically hanging from a clock face.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “Harold Lloyd’s finest film” and gives a brief description of the production. There’s also an essay by Hal Roach expert Richard W. Bann.

But Does It Really?: I’ve said it before: “Safety Last!” is the definitive Harold Lloyd film. Lloyd tends to get overshadowed by Chaplin and Keaton, but his films are just as entertaining, and best exemplify the energetic optimism of the ‘20s. Most of the jokes in “Safety Last!” still land, and I found myself laughing out loud quite a bit during my viewing – not to mention being on the edge of my seat for most of the third act. Like many of the great silent films, “Safety Last!” is simple, yet effective. Another no-brainer for NFR inclusion.

Everybody Gets One: Most of the supporting cast, notably Bill Strother, whose “human spider” act inspired the film, and Mildred Davis, who shortly after filming became Mrs. Harold Lloyd.

Wow, That’s Dated: The usual ‘20s stuff: trollies, newsies, and the six-day week work, including a half-holiday on Saturday. Plus a shoutout to the Follies!

Other notes

  • Turns out Hal Roach and Harold Lloyd started off as film extras together. When Roach received an inheritance, he started his own production company and made a series of successful “Lonesome Luke” shorts starring Lloyd. “Safety Last!” was one of their first attempts producing a feature film.
  • The cast list is titled “For Your Approval”. Leave it on my desk and I’ll have a decision made by Friday.
  • Readers, I give you “Limpy” Bill!
  • Ah yes, the daily fresh Hell that is working retail.
  • Even Harold Lloyd’s background gags are hilarious!
  • I usually don’t mention a film’s rankings on those AFI lists (they aren’t carved in stone, after all), but it’s interesting that “Safety Last!” made their top 100 most thrilling movies, but not their top 100 funniest. Its spot on 100 Thrills is warranted, but it’s definitely funnier than “The Freshman”.
  • My favorite title card in this movie: “You’re no collar ad yourself.” Zing!
  • It helps that Mildred is incredibly gullible and has no peripheral vision whatsoever. Harold can get away with anything!
  • The $1000 offered for the best idea comes out to over $14,000 today. Man, I want $14,000 for telling someone to climb a building.
  • A simple internet search will reveal many of the tricks Harold Lloyd and his team used to create the illusion of him scaling the building. But it doesn’t matter because it’s still am impressive feat of filmmaking to watch. I got serious chills with every close call.
  • Thanks to its proximity to the International Savings Building, Blackstone’s gets plenty of advertising as “California’s Finest Store”.
  • Very nice of the crowd to ignore whenever Harold stops on a ledge and almost goes into the building. Mildred must have coached them.
  • Were those pigeons about to mate?
  • Perhaps the most amazing thing about Harold Lloyd’s stunts in this film is that he was climbing that building with only eight fingers. He lost two fingers in 1919 when he picked up what he presumed was a prop bomb for a photo shoot. The bomb promptly exploded in his hand, leaving Lloyd permanently deformed.
  • This film’s main premise is basically a reverse-“Vertigo”. A “Reversigo”, if you will.
  • That’s what I love about silent films: They reach their climax and fade to black. No epilogue necessary, we know Harold and Mildred live happily ever after (in the film and in real life!)

Legacy

  • Harold Lloyd and Hal Roach parted ways not too long after “Safety Last!” Lloyd would successfully produce his own movies (including “The Freshman”), and Roach would find success producing shorts starring the likes of Laurel & Hardy and The Little Rascals.
  • The shot of Harold Lloyd dangling from the clock face is arguably the most iconic image in silent film history. Everyone has done their own variation on it, the most famous being another NFR film: “Back to the Future”.
  • Other references to the clock shot include the opening credits of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and the poster for the movie “Oscar”. Seriously, “Oscar”?

Unknown

 

  • “Hello? Human Fly here!”

#261) Eaux d’Artifice (1953)

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#261) Eaux d’Artifice (1953)

OR “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”

Directed by Kenneth Anger

Class of 1993

The Plot: With Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” as its soundtrack, “Eaux d’Artifice” is a short scene of a mysterious woman (Carmilla Salvatorelli) dressed in 18th century garments wandering around the Villa d’Este and its many garden fountains. And then she goes near the water and ends up becoming the water, or something like that.

Why It Matters: The NFR gives a brief synopsis and calls the movie “[o]ne of Anger’s more elemental though highly stylized films”.

But Does It Really?: I didn’t get this one at all, but I’m always willing to give a slight pass to underground filmmakers. Although after doing some research on Kenneth Anger, I wonder why the NFR picked this film over the likes of “Fireworks” or “Lucifer Rising”, which seem to be more representative of Anger’s art and worldview.

Everybody Gets One: One of the first openly gay American filmmakers, Kenneth Anger’s movies covered homosexuality at a time when such displays were deemed “obscene” (though the California Supreme Court deemed “Fireworks” art rather than pornography). Fun Fact: Anger was friends with both Alfred Kinsey and Mick Jagger!

Seriously, Oscars?: No Live Action Short nomination for “Eaux d’Artifice”. Coincidentally, the winner that year also centered around a piece of classical music: “Overture to the Merry Wives of Windsor”.

Other notes

  • We got us another nationality dispute, though this one is a bit more philosophical. If your filmmaker is American, but the entire production was shot in Rome, is it still an American film? (You could also point out the French title, but that reeks more of pretentiousness than actual heritage).
  • Kenneth Anger made it to Europe thanks to his friendship with filmmaker Jean Cocteau, who invited Anger to France to collaborate on a film version of his ballet “The Young Man and Death”. Like many of Anger’s films, “Young Man” ran out of funding and was abandoned. After that, Anger went to Rome to film a short about Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, feeding into his love of the occult. But Anger only managed to film the first scene, which became “Eaux d’Artifice”.
  • Carmilla Salvatorelli was a little person who was hired for this film to make the fountains appear larger. It worked.
  • Uh-oh, we got flooding stairs. Did someone put a stopper in the bathtub?
  • I’m really enjoying this music. Did Vivaldi score any other films?
  • Goddamit, NFR, you tricked me into watching another “staring at water” movie. The only difference between this and the likes of “Study of a River” is how artsy this movie is. That’s all well and good, but I’m still looking at fountains.
  • Nice dramatic close-up on one of the fountain spout faces.
  • Why you runnin’?
  • I guess the shots of the fountain at the end have some sort of homoerotic subtext? I didn’t get any of that. I feel so uncultured.

Legacy

  • Anger is still with us; making the occasional film and putting curses on people who have wronged him. Among his many post-“Eaux” accomplishments is penning “Hollywood Babylon”, the gossip book all other gossip books aspire to be (even though most of the book has been disputed).
  • Antonio Vivaldi’s life story (as well as the creation of “Four Seasons”) was the basis for the musical “Jersey Boys”.
  • As for the legacy of the film itself…I dunno, the fountain show at the Bellagio?

#260) Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

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#260) Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

OR “Brother, Can You Spare a Crime?”

Directed by Arthur Penn

Written by David Newman & Robert Benton

Class of 1992

The Plot: Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty are Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow, two Depression-era criminals only partially based on their real-life counterparts. Clyde meets Bonnie while trying to steal her mother’s car, and eventually convinces her to abandon her dead-end life in Dallas to rob banks with him. Joined later by getaway driver C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), Clyde’s brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and Buck’s uptight wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons), the newly-minted Barrow Gang drive around the mid-west committing crimes and shooting anyone in their path. As the legends around them grow, so does Bonnie’s premonition that their infamy will end in tragedy.

Why It Matters: The NFR praises Penn, the screenwriters, Beatty and Dunaway, and says that the movie set “filmmaking and style trends that linger today”. There’s also an essay by film critic Richard Schickel, who takes the time to slam fellow critics Bosely Crowther (who hated the film) and Pauline Kael (who loved it).

But Does It Really?: “Bonnie and Clyde” is the Hollywood movie that dipped its toes into the waters of post-Code anti-heroes. The characters of Bonnie and Clyde were victims of the Depression that rebelled the only way they knew how, by robbing banks, and New Hollywood could finally tell their story in a bold, complex way. By today’s standard the violence is all very tame, but the restraint helps ground the film, as does Arthur Penn’s confident direction and pitch perfect performances from Beatty, Dunaway, and the whole ensemble. Like many in the 1967 roster, “Bonnie and Clyde” helped define a new era of filmmaking, and is a no-brainer for NFR inclusion.

Shout Outs: Bonnie, Clyde, and C.W. hide out in a movie house showing “Gold Diggers of 1933” following their first botched robbery together. The irony of “We’re In the Money” cannot be overstated.

Everybody Gets One: Actors Estelle Parsons, Michael J. Pollard, and Denver Pyle, aka Uncle Jesse from “The Dukes of Hazzard”.

Wow, That’s Dated: Like “The Learning Tree”, “Bonnie and Clyde” is a New Hollywood movie with some of the trappings of an Old Hollywood studio film. Be on the lookout for rear projections and recycled Foley effects.

Seriously, Oscars?: “Bonnie and Clyde” led the Oscar pack (alongside “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”) with 10 nominations, including all of the “Big Five” categories. But 1967 was a strong year for movies, and the Academy spread the wealth among fellow NFR entries “The Graduate”, “In the Heat of the Night”, “Cool Hand Luke”, and the aforementioned “Dinner”. “Bonnie” managed two wins: Supporting Actress for Estelle Parsons (Blanche is the most sympathetic of the Barrow gang), and Cinematography for Old Hollywood cameraman Burnett Guffey.

Other notes

  • Among the film’s historical inaccuracies (or oversimplifications): Clyde was not impotent (nor was he bisexual, as some have claimed), C.W. Moss is a fictional amalgamation of several fringe members of the Barrow gang, and Bonnie received third-degree burns from a car accident that permanently damaged her legs. But it’s the real Blanche Barrow who suffers the most. Unlike her film counterpart, Blanche was fully aware of her husband’s criminal record and was a more active participant in the robberies. Blanche lived long enough to see the film and famously griped that Estelle Parsons’ performance “made me look like a screaming horse’s ass.”
  • This film has one of my all time favorite taglines: “They’re young…they’re in love…and they kill people.”
  • Right off the bat you’re rooting for these two. Beatty and Dunaway’s natural chemistry is aided by some very smart screenwriting. These aren’t two historical figures spouting off researched facts, these are two screwed-up people trying to get their lives together.
  • Michael J. Pollard definitely took his Strother Martin lessons. I presume Pollard was a winner of the Truman Capote lookalike contest.
  • This has got to be one of the rare movies where all five of the lead actors are still with us 50 years later. I will of course use this platform to urge Gene Hackman to make one more movie. Do you really want your swan song to be “Welcome to Mooseport”?
  • What’s louder in this movie: the gunplay or Estelle Parsons?
  • Pretty amazing that the Barrow Gang never runs out of gas during their getaways.
  • The best line in the movie: “And I’m bringing me a mess of flowers to their funeral”.
  • Oh Gene Wilder. Even in your film debut your screen persona is in full bloom (“Step on it, Velma!”).
  • The Parker family reunion scene was allegedly filmed with a window screen to give it a nostalgic filter. One of the locals gathered to watch the filming was Texan schoolteacher Mabel Cavitt, who was cast on the spot as Bonnie’s mother.
  • I have to say, for notorious bank robbers, Bonnie & Clyde don’t rob a lot of banks. If anything they should have gone down for their chronic carjacking.
  • One of the film’s more commendable aspects is that it manages to be a realistic love story without being too romantic or sensual. Any chance of this film being a conventional movie romance is deflated (for lack of a better term) early on, but ultimately these are two people who genuinely care about each other and accept their unified fate.
  • Man, that ending is something else. So much storytelling happening in such quick cuts. It’s brutally tragic. Or is it tragically brutal? Regardless, A+ everyone.

Legacy

  • “Bonnie and Clyde” was buried in limited release by Warner Bros., but resurrected by critics and audiences (including such new young voices as Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael) to become one of the top-grossing hits of 1967. This success jump-started the careers of everyone involved in the film.
  • Many have tried to do a more accurate biopic of Bonnie & Clyde (including a recent TV miniseries), and while they are more factual, they’re just not as exciting.
  • Perhaps my favorite spin-off from this film’s popularity: the short-lived Warner Bros. cartoon series “Bunny and Claude”. They rob carrot patches.
  • But the greatest robbery Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway ever pulled was robbing “Moonlight” of its Best Picture glory.

Listen to This: “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”, everybody! Lester Flatts and Earl Scruggs’ quintessential reckless car chase banjo music was added to the National Recording Registry in 2004, thanks in part to its anachronistic inclusion in “Bonnie and Clyde”.