Saturday, October 7, 2023

What I've Caught Up With, September 2023

I've got about three more months of my life being completely out of control. I get a little of it back with the start of the new year. Until then, watching a movie or two whenever I get a moment seems to be what is keeping me sane--that and trying out new recipes. I caught up on a few movies in September and have also watched a couple of seasons of The Blacklist as well as the short follow-up season to Justified. More to come in October.

What I’ve Caught Up With, September 2023:
Film: Street Scene (1931)

Street Scene is a slice-of-life movie about an apartment building in New York. It concerns the everyday lives of the people who live there on a couple of very hot summer days. We get little bits and pieces of stories here and there, but the main story concerns the Maurrant family. Anna (Estelle Taylor) and Frank Maurrant (David Landau) have a loveless marriage, and Anna has been making time with milkman Steve Sankey (Russell Hopton). Daughter Rose (Sylvia Sidney, the class of the picture) is being relentlessly pursued by her married boss (Walter Miller) and the aggressive neighbor Vincent (Matt McHugh), but her heart belongs to Jewish neighbor Sam Kaplan (William Collier Jr.). There are shades of Grand Hotel in this, but it's very clearly an adapted stage play. It’s a nice showcase for Sidney, who is absolutely the best thing here. Downsides include a lot of sexual harassment and a surprising amount of racial slurs.

Film: The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

Ida Lupino was never trusted with a real budget or anything expected to be better than a B-picture, but she always delivered the goods. Tense, taut, and edited to a trim 71-minutes, The Hitch-Hiker is a high concept film that never really lets up for its tiny running time.Two guys on a weekend fishing trip (Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) stop to help a stranded motorist only to discover he is notorious killer Emmett Myers (William Talman). A manhunt ensues while the two fishermen do what they can to survive, knowing that the moment they stop being useful, he’ll kill them. It’s fast and tense, partly to distract from the fact that in the real world, Myers would kill both of them in the first five minutes. Still, this is why you watch film noir—bad guys and shadows, and this one delivers.

Film: Brian’s Song (1971)

A classic sports story, Brian’s Song is the story of Brian Piccolo (James Caan) and his friendship with Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) as fellow rookies on the Chicago Bears. The story is really about a few things. This is a story in part about race, because Sayers and Piccolo are asked to room together, something unique in the racially-charged times. In addition to being about their friendship, this is about the tragedy of Piccolo’s life, cut down in his prime by cancer. A lot of the sports movies cliches come from this one, but to be fair, it’s at least based on a true story. The cast is rounded out by Jack Warden, Bernie Casey, Shelley Fabares, Judy Pace, and David Huddleston, but the real fun here is actual members of the Bears from the era.

Film: Cul-de-sac (1966)

A pair of wounded criminals named Dickie (Lionel Stander) and Albie (Jack MacGowran) wind up stranded on an island that is connected to the mainland only at low tide. On the island live married couple George (Donald Pleasance) and Teresa (Françoise Dorléac), who may or may not be happy, something that the arrival of the two criminals will bring to light. We never learn a great deal of the backstory—the focus is all on the present and the repressed sexuality of our host on the island. It’s a story that seems like it wants to go somewhere but it stays very tightly focused on the people. While only vaguely horror themed, it does seem to fit with Roman Polanski’s typical oeuvre.

Film: Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983)

If seeing this here makes you suspect that I’ll be dropping a review of Thriller during spooky season, you’d be absolutely right. Thriller is an amazing piece of film, something that holds up after 40 years. Seeing the making of video is perhaps less life-changing, but it’s still an interesting document. Seeing how something this iconic was created is fascinating, a much shorter sense of The Beatles documentary and not nearly as impactful, but still cool. Thriller changed everything about music videos, so it’s worth seeing how it was all put together. If you’re a fan of the short—and you should be—it’s worth seeing this despite it being more than four times as long as the video.


  1. With the exception of Street Scene which I still haven't seen. I have seen everything you've listed as Brian's Song is a film that I admit does make me cry as it's a film my dad loved back in the day. I have seen that documentary on "Thriller" as it was on MTV a lot back in the 1980s/1990s. The Hitch-Hiker is an incredible film as I own that on Blu-Ray while I have Cul-de-sac on DVD as I enjoyed that film as well as I think it's one of Polanski's finest films.

    1. Street Scene is not really a necessary watch. It's harmless overall. Sylvia Sidney is what is worth seeing in it, but if you never see it, your life won't be too different.

    2. It’s been a while since I’ve seen all the films you caught up with in a month, but I have done so with all five of these.

      With regard to the Making of Thriller. I agree the video Thriller is extraordinary, but this like most peek behind the camera docs is interestingly informational but not much else.

      All four of the films though are worthwhile to varying degrees. Of them I think The Hitch-Hiker is the best, and the best of Ida’s directorial efforts. All her theatrical pictures are solid but this one is a marvel of economy and tension. She was very fortunate in having three performers who fit so well in the story and could handle the intricacies needed to keep it taut but it’s her sure hand that guides the film.

      Brian’s Song, like the similar period’s TV movie telling of Heisman trophy winner John Cappelletti’s brother’s struggle with leukemia-Something for Joey, is a heart tugger filled with exquisite performances. It’s just the thing if you’re looking for a good cry but still heavy going.

      I think it’s safe to say shockingly young and dewy or old and wizened Sylvia Sidney is almost invariably without fail the best thing in any picture she appears in. Street Scene is a perfect example of that. It’s not a bad film nor are the other players incompetent, but her performance has a depth the others don’t.

      I found Cul-de-sac very intriguing with its eclectic cast, it provides a nice showcase role for the talented but short-lived Françoise Dorléac as well as an early one for the absolutely breathtaking Jacqueline Bisset. But while I found it odd, and it kept my interest throughout I’ve never had a burning desire to return to view it again.

    3. I think I agree that The Hitch-Hiker is the class of this group. Lupino's work never got the credit it deserved in the moment, and I'm always pleasantly surprised when I come across one of hers.

      You may be the only other person I know of who has not only seen but can name Something for Joey, which I think I saw when it was originally broadcast. It's one of those movies that stuck with me, probably because I was about Joey's age at the time.