The Hired Gun opens with a shot of a noose hanging over a scaffold in the early morning of a dusty “one-horse town” as the voice of Ellen Beldon (Anne Francis) informs us that today, for the first time in Texas, they’ll hang a woman for murder—herself. She assures us she’s innocent, and hardly are her words finished when a tall, black-suited preacher (Chuch Connors) comes to offer solace… by busting her out and racing her across the border into New Mexico.
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Perhaps a personal approach is best. I’ve followed all of Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s movies since a critics’ preview of Clouds of May at the San Francisco Film Festival in 1999. My memory is that not many attended that screening, and many others left before the ending of that character study of a disaffected writer. I realized it was “slow” (always a relative judgment, but we know what it means), but somehow it clicked, or I did. I thought, “This is made by someone who loves Chekhov”, and was gratified to learn later that what seemed so obvious also happens to be true.
In case we hadn’t already figured out the debt to Chekhov, a poster on the wall of the main character’s study in Winter Sleep is for The Seagull. At three and a quarter hours, this is Ceylan’s most hefty—yet always delicate—salute to the master of petit bourgeois psychology, as he explores the impulses that prod comfortable people to make themselves miserable.
With the success of MGM’s made-in-England series of Miss Marple movies starring Margaret Rutherford, producer Lawrence P. Bachmann thought it auspicious to try Agatha Christie’s other famous detective, the Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot. If he hoped for another series, the plan didn’t get beyond one movie, which is now available on demand from Warner Archive.
Like the Marple films, The Alphabet Murders is more of a comic lark that diverges in tone and plot from Christie. Indeed, it goes farther, seeming to parody Poirot films almost before they existed. The spoofiness is signaled right away as Tony Randall addresses the camera as himself before transforming into Poirot and addressing the camera some more. It’s all a joke, and this approach didn’t please Christie or mystery fans, nor even fans of Randall.
Alfred Hitchcock‘s Jamaica Inn isn’t an overlooked masterpiece, but it has been widely and unfairly dismissed for decades for complicated reasons. The film gives a star introduction to Maureen O’Hara (after a couple of minor screen roles) as its young Irish heroine Mary, archetypally beautiful and spunky. O’Hara would embody this persona for the rest of her career.
With great presence of mind and not a little temper, Mary falls among a gang of murderous shipwreckers on the Cornish coast of 1819 when she goes to stay with her put-upon Aunt Patience (Marie Ney) and rascally Uncle Joss (Leslie Banks). When Mary rescues a gang member (Robert Newton) from being hanged, they seek help from the local squire, Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton), but they don’t know what the viewer knows: Sir Humphrey is the head villain.
Spaghetti westerns are marked above all by a monotonous emphasis on revenge, violence, and sadism perpetrated by ambiguous antiheroes and the men who hate them. The best examples inject social commentary or dress it up with a flashy style of widescreen vistas and ear-catching music. Day of Anger is among the better examples, especially when we can see it in such a clear, vibrant, properly letterboxed transfer.
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