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Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947).
A tough ex-private eye (Robert Mitchum) tries to start over and escape his past mistakes, but someone finds out where's he hiding, and in the flashback that takes up most of the rest of the movie, he tells about his fateful encounter with a beautiful, dangerous girl (Jane Greer) and her gangster boyfriend (Kirk Douglas). With its brilliantly allusive dialogue and dark visual sheen, this is one of the smartest, saddest, and most poetic film noirs - impeccable style combined with postwar American dread. The characters are finely drawn, yet mysterious - their lives seem to extend beyond the film into places unknown. Tourneur's technique was never more elaborate - the pace, atmosphere, camera placement and movement, along with the top-notch acting, pulls you in and never lets go. Yet the film was considered a B-picture at the time, was dismissed by most critics, and was generally ignored until its rediscovery by noir aficionados years later.
-- Chris Dashiell

The President's Analyst
(Theodore J. Flicker, 1967).
"You think it's fun bein' the silent bleedin' partner in North America?"
After all these years, this (pre-Watergate!) paranoid satire continues to operate under the radar. It's still as timely as ever - perhaps more so. Superb work from James Coburn in the lead, and an astonishing monologue from the late, great Godfrey Cambridge.
--Thor Klippert

The funniest political paranoia movie of them all - conspiracies played with wry wit. Includes a great haystack scene in which agents from branches of several governments attempt to assassinate the unsuspecting Executive psychiatrist in the arms of his girl.
-- Mark Netter

Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971).
Humans have a place in the natural world. Our attempts at civilizing ourselves distance us from the knowledge of that place. Such is the theme of this rigorous, visually stunning film. A teen girl and her younger brother are abandoned in the outback. They only survive after encountering an aboriginal youth on his "walkabout." The girl's young brother takes to natural life quickly, not having been yet inculcated into civilized habits, assumptions, and thought processes, making the point that the longer we are surrounded by the antiseptic, the harder it is for us to relate to nature. Roeg shot this film himself, and masterfully fills the frame with natural images that take the viewer far away from the civilized perspective. The return to civilization at the film's end feels nearly poisonous. The final scene, as the now-grown woman reflects on the "paradise lost" she left behind, is hauntingly beautiful and bittersweet.
-- Michael Buck

Trust (Hal Hartley, 1990)
Hartley's brand of obscure comedy and social satire has often been called an acquired taste, but I think this is his funniest and most accessible film, about a pregnant teen (Adrienne Shelley) and an antisocial loner (Martin Donovan) who make an unlikely connection because they can't seem to be able to connect with anyone else. The director's view of middle America is quirkily dyspeptic, uncomfortably recognizable, yet will make you chuckle.
-- Devin Rambo

Okay, so Hal Hartley's filmmaking career never really took off - but here is a love story that succeeds magnificently. It's hard to make romantic comedy work while remaining unique, but Trust is one of those rare examples where it all comes together.
- Sasha Stone

Bagdad Cafe (Percy Adlon, 1987).
A stranded German housewife (Marianne Sagebrecht) teams up with a tough black woman (CCH Pounder) to turn a desert diner into an oasis, in this loving tribute to art in all of its manifestations. With brilliant crispy colors and oddball visual technique, Adlon portrays the art of making friends, forming bonds, and seeing things from perspectives you might not have thought of before. A very funny film with wonderful performances, including a droll turn by Jack Palance as a desert rat cum artiste, this film is mainly the story of two women who discover, after a lot of trepidation, that developing trust is the most rewarding art of all. It's a visual feast that treats its audience to something new on every viewing. And it has lederhosen - what more do you want?
-- Bonnie Lee Howard

In the desert, these characters feast on the delicacy of friendship and love. Remarkable.
-- Lovell Mahan-Moutaw

Woman in the Dunes
(Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964).
An entomologist (Eiji Okada), examining beetles in the desert, misses his bus back to the city and is given lodging with a woman (Kiyoko Kishida) who lives alone in a house at the bottom of a huge sandpit, accessible only by ladder. The next morning he discovers that the ladder has been removed and he is the woman's prisoner. To keep from being buried, they must shovel sand each night. At first he tries to escape, but the walls of sand only crumble beneath him. As the man realizes the extent of his enslavement, the relationship between the two becomes both bitterly antagonistic and erotically dependent. Resigned to displacing sand that will only be redeposited the following morning, the man struggles to find some meaning in his torturous existence. Aided by Toru Takemitsu's marvelous score and the stunning cinematography of Hiroshi Segawa, the film lets us see the sand as both oppressor and liberator. The ending ponders the true meaning of freedom.
-- Howard Schumann

Destiny (Fritz Lang, 1921).
One of the earlier and greater works of the German Expressionist silent cinema, this film sets the pattern for the fatalism of Fritz Lang's long, distinguished career. The German title (Der Mude Tod) literally means "Weary Death." When Death comes to take away a young woman's lover, she pleads that he be given one more chance. Jaded by his eternal duty, Death agrees to give her three chances, in three different ages and locations, to save her lover's life. If less epic in scope than Lang's later German films, it is distinguished by remarkable special effects and a breathtaking final image.
-- Don Larsson
People Will Talk (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1951).
Cary Grant plays Dr. Praetorius, a nontraditional physician who believes in the power of the mind to help cure illness. When a young colleague (Jeanne Crain) tries to kill herself, he discovers that she's pregnant and marries her. While defending himself from charges that he is unfit to teach at the medical school, he must also persuade his wife that he really loves her and didn't just marry her out of pity. This is one of my favorite Cary Grant roles. When Dr. Praetorius finally explains his relationship with his best friend (Finlay Currie) who has served time in jail for murder, I am swept away by Grant’s convincing delivery, his tenderness, affection and compassion. This film was controversial for its time, dealing as it does with unwed pregnancy, attempted suicide, injustice of the legal system, the death penalty, and more. But it’s also warm, funny, romantic, and refreshingly adult.
-- Marilyn Elliott

Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994).
Widely regarded as the worst film director ever, Ed Wood is portrayed here in a fond and sympathetic manner. The failed artist, Burton seems to be saying, is not just a hack, but a naive person with a vision. Beautifully shot in black-and-white by Stefan Czapsky, with maginificently realized performances by Johnny Depp, in the title role, and Martin Landau as an over-the-hill junkie Bela Lugosi.
-- Paulo X

Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995)
A young French woman (Julie Delpy) and an American (Ethan Hawke) meet by chance, are attracted to one another, and spend just one day in Vienna together before parting ways. The two leads have great chemistry, ad-libbing their way through some monologues believably, and the film expresses a bittersweet mood through their actions: hugs that threaten to suffocate, wanting to look back but not giving in, excruciating long walks through the transit-terminal of choice. Well, a straight description of this film is unlikely to attract the skeptical. Suffice to say it's one of the best, most believable, and most unconventional screen romances.
-- Greg Sorenson

A simple, realistic love story that is unobstructed by stupid clichés or Hollywood formulas. -- Nikoo Yahyazadeh

The Wicker Man
(Robin Hardy, 1973).
If you think horror movies are all about cheap effects, think again. This is a film that knows how to let the tension build itself into a good sustained scare. Written by Anthony Shaffer, the story concerns an investigation by a devoutly religious detective (Edward Woodward) into the disappearance of a girl that leads him to a strange, apparently pagan, Scottish community. The music, pace and atmosphere exemplify the best cinematic aesthetics of the 70s, while the film evokes that feeling that people were trying to make the most of the recently acquired sexual freedom - or better yet, trying to discover what to make of it amidst the liberal excesses and the conservative paranoia. But there's more than that to this odd flick - it's a beautifully told story of mystery, violence, and the old conflict between freedom and morality, sex and religion, paganism and Christianity. No easy interpretations are drawn, and the ending is totally unexpected and unsettling. A classic.
-- Mariana Cirne

Croupier (Mike Hodges, 1998).
A frustrated writer who spins a roulette wheel for a living is confronted with a tricky, dangerous offer from a mysterious woman. Moody, intelligent, and Clive Owen. Nuff said.
-- Lovell Mahan-Moutaw

For those who enjoy movies about gambling like I do, it doesn't get much better than this.
-- Melissa B. Cummings

The Romantic Englishwoman (Joseph Losey, 1975).
Michael Caine plays a writer who is trying to write a novel called The Romantic Englishwoman, about a novelist's wife who goes off and has an affair because she's discontent. He tells a friend that "he's thinking of turning it into a thriller." His wife (Glenda Jackson) is in fact having an affair; at the forty-five minute mark, the film turns into a thriller, sort of. Literate, deliberately pretentious, beautifully shot. It's a crock, and I love it. The screenplay is by Tom Stoppard. Best scene: Caine screaming at Kate Nelligan: "You are the most boring woman in the world!"
-- Les Phillips
Truly Madly Deeply (Anthony Minghella, 1991).
Juliet Stevenson plays Nina, grief stricken over the sudden death of her lover Jamie (Alan Rickman). She can't bring herself to accept that he's gone - and then, one day, his spirit comes back to visit her. This film about love and loss is so real in its emotion, so well acted and fine tuned to the gut, that each and every time I watch it I cry like a baby. Herein lies the root of my love for all things Rickman, which has never relented. And Stevenson is a great talent, so reliable and completely underrated. I've seen her in a wide variety of films, and she shines in every sort of role. Nowhere is she more real and sympathetic than here. With one of the most bittersweet endings ever, this film is a treasure, hidden or not.
-- terri mabry

Even the bit parts are lovingly crafted. Plus a smile-inducing piano-cello duet of "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore." Plus ghosts who are movie buffs. Just so many great moments. But sometimes when I've shown this movie to friends, they've dismissed it as "depressing." We tend not to be friends after that, but that's another story.
-- Dave Vermillion

Bachelor Mother
(Garson Kanin, 1939).
The film that made me fall for Ginger Rogers was 5th Ave Girl, but this one's even better. She plays a woman who finds a baby on the steps of an orphanage, and while attempting to bring it inside out of the winter cold, is accused of being the real mother and then forced by her employer - David Niven - to bring up the baby as her own. Well acted and good naturedly risqué, the film remains both comic and romantic after many viewings. One of the highlights: Rogers goes to a dinner party with Niven and pretends to be Swedish, totally destroying the snobbish upper class women who try to make fun of her.
-- Mark Ashley

The Unknown (Tod Browning, 1927).
Lon Chaney as an armless man in a freak show who falls for the circus owner's daughter and murders a rival. It's a horrific, dark tale of love directed in great style by a master of the grotesque.
-- Catherine Lucy

The Trouble With Harry
(Alfred Hitchcock, 1955).
This endearing and poignant black comedy - call it light Hitchcock - is full of wonderfully quirky characters, boasts one of Bernard Herrmann's best scores, and manages to successfully combine sweet and macabre, in an amusing look at the dark side of a small Vermont town.
-- Julius Banzon

The trouble with Harry is that he's dead, and the four principal characters - played by Shirley MacLaine (her debut), John Forsythe, Edmund Gwenn, and Mildred Natwick - have their own ideas about how he died, which lead to various attempts to bury the body. In fact, the body gets buried and disinterred, and reburied and almost buried, quite a few times. In its blithe disregard for niceties the film ends up being a rather clever satire on the whole idea of normality. The color photography (Robert Burks) is simply gorgeous.
-- Chris Dashiell

Stray Dog (Akira Kurosawa, 1949).
Part journey of phallic redemption, part kinetic portrait of post-WWII urban Japan, Stray Dog is the gripping noir tale of a policeman searching for his gun before the killer who stole it uses all six bullets. At a time of scarcity, the missing gun represents lost honor as much as a samurai's sword, and a young Toshiro Mifune is in top form as the desperate detective. The portrayal of decadence in the nighttime search scenes through the city is at once socially critical and intoxicating. The climactic hand-to-hand battle in the swamplands by a dusty train station is textbook catharsis, with no musical underscoring, just the sounds of the wind whistling through the reeds and two men in pitched, primal combat.
-- Mark Netter

"Everyone likes the film, but I don't...all that technique and not one real thought in it." Perhaps it is Kurosawa's own opinion of Stray Dog, his third collaboration with Toshiro Mifune, that has kept it comparatively hidden. Or perhaps even a great film can get lost amidst the myriad "classics" that have distinguished Kurosawa's career. Regardless, this remains an intriguing work, both in terms of Kurosawa's career and as an allegory of Japan's social and cultural state after the war. What begins as a quest for a lost firearm becomes a pilgrim's progress of purification and self-discovery, a thematic search for the humanity amidst the rubble.
-- Ed Owens

The Parent Trap (David Swift, 1961).
Every time I watch this film, Hayley Mills convinces me that twins Sharon and Susan, separated as babies, are really two distinct people up there on the screen and not one talented young actress playing a dual role. How these twins, each knowing nothing of the other, meet at camp, discover their history, change places, and scheme to get their parents together again is a delightful mix of comedy, romance, and ideal world scenario, somehow rising above the typical rose-colored Disney product of the day. The idea that parents could actually be heartless enough to split up identical twins, each taking one, is a splinter under the skin of this film, but forgivable in the outcome. Hayley Mills was the most gifted and natural young actor since Roddy McDowell, and perhaps up to and including Haley Joel Osment. Although all the cast in The Parent Trap conduct themselves with honor, it is Mills who carries this film and makes it worth watching again and again.
-- Marilyn Elliott

I grew up a Disney kid, so this stuff was spoon fed to me, but this is one of the only things that truly stuck. One reason is Ms. Mills and her ability to make us forget she's got a British accent. It's hilarious, really, to look back at all her roles and realize that in the vast majority, we're meant to just sort of forget she's got this accent when no one else around her does. Anyway, one of the main things that makes this film work is not the story of the twins separated in childhood and raised on opposite coasts, but the adult love story between Brian Keith and Maureen O'Hara, two real looking people of a certain age. O'Hara is a gorgeously full-figured woman, and Keith is quite the strapping middle-aged man. Hell, even the "other woman" looks to be over 30. All this, and "Let's Get Together," too! Yay! Yay! Yay!
-- terri mabry

Thérèse (Alain Cavalier, 1986).
The life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the "little flower" who practiced acceptance of what life and God gave her. Cavalier tells the story in a spare, direct style with few sets - a filmic method that mirrors the simple approach that Thérèse took to her life.
-- Devin Rambo

Her life is depicted in minimalist vignettes. Her devotion to Jesus and her concept of "the little way" to God are shown clearly, using plain modern language. A sense of angelic simplicity comes across without fancy lights, choirs, or miracles.
-- Howard Schumann

Gates of Heaven (Errol Morris, 1978).
The debut film by documentary master Morris is ostensibly about pet cemeteries, but I can't think of a film that's more eloquent about the way people use death as a way to find meaning in life.
-- Paul B. Clark

The Italian Straw Hat
(René Clair, 1927).
A comedy capturing a lost art form - the French "boulevard" farce. Here's the set-up: a young man is on the way to his own wedding, but his horse unfortunately eats the straw hat of a married woman who is in a compromising position with a cavalry officer, who in turn forces the bridegroom to go in search of an identical hat so that the lady can return home. It's from a 19th century play, one of many like it, but the remarkable thing is that Clair pulls it off without sound - replacing the verbal gags with visual ones. As the search for the hat proceeds, the situations become increasingly complicated and ridiculous, while the pacing and visual dexterity is so elegant and exact that the whole thing feels like a well-oiled comic machine. The climax (the hero's wedding) pulls all the strands together masterfully. The film has a satiric tone as well, displaying members of the middle class in a most unflattering light. The sets and costumes are splendid. Its flavor of comic struggle against ever-looming disaster is appealing, and forms an interesting contrast to the more optimistic American forms of humor.
-- Chris Dashiell

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