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Abraham Polonsky came to prominence with the box-office success of "Body and Soul" in 1947, and made his directorial debut a year later with "Force of Evil." Acclaimed as a masterpiece of postwar American noir, the film critiques the capitalist ethos turned hard-boiled. Polonsky's unflinching portrait of two brothers caught in a downward spiral of corruption suggests comparison to the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Its eloquent prose, that some have likened to blank verse, drips with cynicism. John Garfield adds a virile edge as the mob lawyer who tries to save his small-time bookie brother from financial ruin in a numbers racket takeover.As the film plunges deeper into an amoral abyss, the congested New York City of its opening frames gives way to a bleak landscape reminiscent of an Edward Hopper painting. Finally, the abyss swallows Garfield "down, down, down... to the bottom of the world."
Director Otto Preminger reveals a coldly objective temperament and a masterful narrative sense which combine to turn this standard 40s melodrama into something as haunting as its famous theme by David Raksin. Less a crime film than a study in obsession, the film's strength lies in downplaying the story (based on Vera Caspary's suspense novel) and emphasizing its seductive style thanks in part to the Oscar-winning camera work of Joseph LaShelle. As a tough detective (Dana Andrews) investigates the murder of Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) he methodically questions the chief suspects: an acid-tongued columnist (Clifton Webb), a self-indulgent playboy (Vincent Price), and a wealthy "patroness" (Judith Anderson). The deeper he delves into the case, the more fascinated he becomes with the enigmatic mystery woman, falling in love with her portrait. While he sits in her apartment obsessing, the door opens, the lights go on, and in walks Laura, very much alive!
After two previous film versions of Dashiell Hammett's detective classic "The Maltese Falcon," Warner Bros. finally captured the true essence of Hammett's story in 1941 by wisely adhering to the original as faithfully as possible. John Huston, a screenwriter making his directorial debut, was the catalyst for its success, and Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade provided the film's heart and soul, earning him stardom for his effort. A hard-boiled often unscrupulous San Francisco private eye, Spade gets drawn into a series of intrigues and double-crosses by client Mary Astor who, along with partners Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, are in search of a jewel-encrusted statuette shaped like a falcon. Among the most influential movies to emerge from the Hollywood studio system, "The Maltese Falcon" is as significant in some ways as its contemporary "Citizen Kane" for its contribution to establishing an entirely new style of storytelling that would become identified as "film noir." Expanded essay by Richard T. Jameson (PDF, 437KB)
Done in faux cinéma vérité style, Mitchell Block's 16-minute New York University student film begins on a note of insouciant amateurism and then convincingly moves into darker, deeper waters. Opening with a scene of a girl getting ready for a date, the camera-wielding protagonist adroitly orchestrates a mood shift from goofiness to raw pain as an interviewer tears down the girl's emotional defenses after being raped. One of the first films to deal with the way rape victims are treated when they seek professional help for sexual assault, "No Lies" still possesses a searing resonance and has been widely viewed by nurses, therapists and police officers.
A legendarily expansive and ambitious start to the saga set in a galaxy far, far away, director George Lucas opened audiences' eyes to the possibilities of successful science fiction movies using special effects that are effective and intelligently integrated with the story. Young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is thrust into the struggle of the Rebel Alliance when he meets the wise Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). Obi-Wan begins training Luke as a Jedi knight to combat the opposition, and the two head off and join mercenary Han Solo (Harrison Ford) on a daring mission to rescue the beautiful Rebel leader Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from the clutches of the evil Empire. Luke proves that he does indeed possess mystical powers known as the Force which he invokes to destroy the Empire's dreaded Death Star.Movie poster
Jim Jarmusch has emerged as a leading figure in independent cinema, and this, his first major film, reflects his non-traditional style. From an earlier version of a script written with his punk rock musician friend, John Lurie, Jarmusch fashioned the piece into a three-part black comedy set in New York, Cleveland and Florida. His main characters, three disillusioned young people played by Lurie, Eszter Balint and Richard Edson, do little more than watch TV, go to movies and play cards. Citing inspiration from the works of Andy Warhol, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, Jarmusch has adopted a minimalist approach to his work that often straddles several languages and cultures.
Before "They Call It Pro Football" premiered, football films were little more than highlight reels set to the oom-pah of a marching band. In 1964, National Football League commissioner Pete Rozelle agreed to the formation of NFL Films. With a background in public relations, he recognized that the success of the league depended on its image on television, which required creating a mystique. "They Call It Pro Football," the first feature of NFL Films, looked at the game "in dramaturgical terms," capturing the struggle, not merely the outcome, of games played on the field. Written and produced by Steve Sabol, directed by John Hentz and featuring the commanding cadence of narrator John Facenda and the music of Sam Spence, the film presented football on an epic scale and in a way rarely seen by the spectator. Telephoto lenses brought close-ups of players' faces into viewers' living rooms. Slow motion revealed surprising intricacy and grace. Sweeping ground-to-sky shots imparted a "heroic angle." Coaches and players wearing microphones let the audience in on strategy and emotion. "They Call It Pro Football" established a mold for subsequent productions by NFL Films and has well earned its characterization as the "Citizen Kane" of sports movies.Expanded essay by Ed Carter (PDF, 281KB)
Few movies thrust its viewers into the heart of erotic obsession than Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo." As Jimmy Stewart pursues mystery woman Kim Novak, whom he transforms into the image of the dead woman he loved, Hitchcock paints a vivid picture of the consuming and harrowing nature of desire. Stewart, a police detective debilitated by the dizzying effects of his acrophobia, is shown as a man free-falling into love, in a thrillingly and surprisingly compelling performance. Novak exhibits a slinky feline grace and alley cat passion in a mesmerizing dual role. The dreamlike images of this romantic tragedy are so eerily beautiful they become indelible in viewers' minds. Upon its release, few people considered the film Hitchcock's best. Many of the director's films were tenser, scarier, spine-tinglingly entertaining. But over time, "Vertigo" has percolated into our collective consciousness, and is now cited by film scholars and viewers alike as the greatest film of all time, displacing the previously perennial champion "Citizen Kane."Expanded essay by Thomas Leitch (PDF, 614KB)Movie poster 2b1af7f3a8