Category: 1965


How to Murder Your Wife

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Occasionally, this blog does some really weird stuff. I.e., for the first 300 and so films of my blog’s existence, Jack Lemmon didn’t make a single appearance, but after his arrival in the masterful Glengarry Glen Ross, he makes his return just four films later. Pacino did the exact same thing. He hadn’t been any movie prior to the flaccid Scarface last week, but he came roaring back for Glengarry Glen Ross a couple days later. And that’s odd because those are two of Hollywood’s most beloved actors of all time. It’s so weird that it took them this long to show up in the first place. And after two films (when I wasn’t that intimately familiar with Jack Lemmon’s non-Grumpy Old Men roles), I get the allure surrounding this Hollywood legend. Because ten films into my current 50 film line-up for this blog (cause I break my awards down into 50 film chunks), Jack Lemmon is the front-runner for both Best Actor in both Drama and Comedy (though there’s plenty of time for him to be dethroned for both).

That isn’t to say that my current movie, How to Murder Your Wife, is half the movie that Glengarry Glen Ross was. It’s not even operating in the same galaxy of excellence. Actually, to be honest, it’s sort of bad. Jack Lemmon is just brilliant in it. He’s apparently one of those actors like Meryl Streep who can make even subpar material good in the wake of his terrific acting. I’m sure that for the time this film felt revolutionary with its almost counter-culture message about marriage, 50 years later, How to Murder Your Wife seems almost virulently misogynistic and the laughs don’t come often enough to justify it’s overly long two hour running time. The movie has some great comic bits, but for the most part, How to Murder Your Wife is a bore that hasn’t aged well.

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Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon) is America’s most beloved comic strip artist. His daily Dash Branigan series chronicling the adventures of a secret agent is read by 80 million people every day. He lives in a gorgeous New York City town house with his butler Charles (Terry-Thomas), and Stanley’s life is the very model of content bachelorhood. When a stag party ends with Stanley married to the dancer that jumps out of the cake (the absurdly gorgeous Virna Lisi), his life becomes everything he fears from domestication. His cartoon hero becomes a domestic marriage satire, and Stanley even begins to put on weight and lose his cocky swagger. Angry with his new lot in life, Stanley decides to have Dash Branigan murder his fictional wife. But when Mrs. Ford finds out about Stanley’s cartoon plans, she runs away and everyone else begins to suspect that Stanley actually murdered her.

Similar to the screwball action at the heart of The Palm Beach Story, this movie actually sounds pretty funny on paper. And if more of the film had been devoted to Stanley’s harmless escapist fantasy of murdering his fictional wife and it avalanching out of control, this could have been a great movie. Sadly, the film spends too much time as a terribly dated family comedy where they try to play on dated gender stereotypes for as many laughs as possible even though the laughs don’t actually arrive. Most of the women are unbearable, unlikeable nagging hags. Mrs. Ford isn’t even given a real name. She’s not necessarily unlikeable but her stupidity and naivete is almost unending. And Stanley’s lawyer, Harold Lampson (Eddie Mayehoff) is a paragon of male boorishness and a picture of the emasculated henpecked husband. But, it’s not funny. It’s just pathetic.

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Thank god for Jack Lemmon and Terry-Thomas then. Anyone wanting to be a comic actor should just go back and watch old Jack Lemmon roles because he is a master of comedic timing. He just knows the exact right moment to deliver the punchline. And the way he can roll his eyes or sigh or become deflated after his plans fall apart is just wonderful. And despite the awful situation he believes he’s found himself in and the almost unsympathetic figure that the script paints him as, Lemmon has such a natural joie de vivre that you can’t help but root for this scheming weasel whose dick got him into more trouble than he could afford. And Terry-Thomas helps to obliterate all of the tropes and cliches associated with the wise and mature butler. He’s as sexist and scheming and hard-willed as Stanley and honestly, the film could have used more of Charles the Butler.

How to Murder Your Wife is not a good movie. It has some great moments. And when they let Jack Lemmon just be Jack Lemmon, it can border on brilliant. He gives a speech towards the end of the film is absurdly offensive in its sexism, but coming from Jack Lemmon’s mouth, you almost don’t want to realize what he’s actually saying. That’s how good he is. He’s like the D.W. Griffith or Leni Riefenstahl of sexism in this film. If you like classic comedies, you might enjoy this film. I love classic comedies though, particularly the classic screwball films, and How to Murder Your Wife did not prove to be one of them.

Final Score: C+

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If you can’t understand why Bob Dylan is one of the top five most important American lyricists of all time (if not outright number one but I could see arguments being made for Jim Morrison or Bruce Springsteen), we probably can’t have a reasonable conversation about music. We would operating in incompatible spheres of musical discussion. Bob Dylan revolutionized folk music and song-writing ever since he first popped on the scene. I’m delving into my vinyl collection here with the first track on Highway 61 Revisited, “Like a Rolling Stone.” Considered by many to be one of the greatest songs ever recorded, I’d have to agree. I don’t think it’s my number one. And I don’t even think it’s Bob Dylan’s best song, but few songs had a bigger impact in the world of music than “Like a Rolling Stone.” It’s ripple are still felt today. My words (even when I was a regularly writing film critic) couldn’t have done this song justice. So we’ll just let old Bobby D speak for himself.

 

You want to know how I know I’m getting old. This really happened. That is a link to an article I wrote at Baeble right after the Grammys about the Twitter phenomenon of people honestly not knowing who Paul McCartney is. PAUL FUCKING MCCARTNEY! That’s like not knowing who Michael Jackson is or the President of the United States. He’s a Beatle God Damnit! I cried some tears for future generations. Anywho, as a senior in college, I don’t have a chance to make as many new friends as I did when I first started out. Not living in the dorms and not being involved in a million extra-curricular activities will generally shrink your potential friend pool. Anyways, I have made a couple new friends this year, and one posted a picture on Facebook of a bunch of Beatles albums. I asked her today what her favorite Beatles album was and she said Rubber Soul. I’m more of a Revolver or Abbey Road man myself, but every Beatles record is phenomenal, and Rubber Soul actually has my favorite poppier song of the Beatles, “Drive My Car.” Beatles aren’t on Spotify so I have no idea what song I’m going to make my Song of the Day for there. Probably a cover from Across the Universe except they don’t use this song in the movie. Anyways, give it up for the greatest band of all time.

The first time I ever heard this classic track was on the soundtrack to Platoon. I actually don’t even think I had seen Oliver Stone’s classic war film yet (regularly counted among the best war films ever made). My dad purchased the soundtrack to the film, and we listened to it a lot. There were a ton of great tunes on there including the Rascals, Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, and I want to say Jefferson Airplane as well. I might be wrong about the latter. The only song on the album I actively disliked was the god-awful “Okie from Muskogee” which I rank among the worst/most jingoistic songs I’ve ever listened to. Along with Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” (I’m pretty sure it’s on the soundtrack), the song that got the most play from me was “The Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. It’s one of the greatest soul songs ever recorded and I hope you all enjoy it if you somehow haven’t managed to hear it before.

I have attention deficit disorder or something. I just added a whole new group of films to my master list for the blog (I incorporated films from the popular book series, 1001 Movies to See Before You Die) and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last two days. I’ve also redone my Netflix queue to accommodate this newly populated and newly randomized list. So, once again, I nearly forgot to do my Song of the Day post. That should honestly be the catch phrase of this series since I nearly forget to do it 75% of the time. We’re down to the second to last band that I saw at Bonnaroo this year (I was so emotionally overwhelmed by the strength of Bon Iver’s haunting performance that I knew any thing else the rest of the day would be a let down), and it was none other than the absolutely legendary Beach Boys. This isn’t the Beach Boys that’s been touring the country for the last twenty years (which is to say different incarnations with only one or two members). This was the first time that the entire Beach Boys (well, the living ones anyway) had been together in decades. And it was awesome. Like with Gary Clark Jr., I was in line for Bon Iver so I couldn’t see the stage very well, but I could hear them and they haven’t lost an ounce of their glorious ability to harmonize. I cried a little bit when they performed “God Only Knows.” It was just gorgeous. I’m picking “Do You Wanna Dance” (instead of a more prominent Beach Boys song) because I want to save their best songs for more special and personal occasions. If you have the chance, catch the Beach Boys now. You won’t have very many other opportunities.

Well, I’m probably not going to be getting any sleep tonight. I just finished watching Roman Polanski’s 1965 psychological thriller, Repulsion, and for fear of suffering extremely vivid nightmares involving skinned rabbits and hands protruding out of my walls, I’m going to hold off on sleep until I’ve watched something a little less terrifying. Gore and blood and guts have never nor will they ever terrify me as much as some good old fashioned mind games, and while Repulsion takes a while to get off the ground and moves at its own, slower place, when the scares finally come, they are guaranteed to leave you tense and on edge. The film was far from perfect and despite her beauty, I’ll never believe that Catherine Deneuve is a fine actress, but at the end of the day, if you want a film that is going to get under your skin and stay there til you beg for release from its nightmare world, then you need look no further than Repulsion.

Catherine Deneuve (Belle de Jour) plays Carol, a French woman working at a beauty salon and living in a London apartment with her older sister, Helena. Catherine is a bit off (to put it lightly) when the film begins. She’s a neurotic and sexually repressed mess. At the mere thought of men, she cringes nearly into the fetal position (and often not even nearly but completely). She is awakened most nights by the sound of her sister and her boyfriend’s loud and amorous love-making. She can’t even escape men at her work as her co-workers and clients often discuss men and sex, and it only serves to reinforce her neuroses. Her sister and her sister’s boyfriend leave for a prolonged vacation to Italy and leave Carol in charge of the apartment. Over the course of this period, Carol descends into a terrifying world of paranoia, hallucinations, and sheer insanity that climaxes in moments that I will refrain from ruining on this blog, but needless to say, her sexual repression manifests itself through complete psychosis.


Besides sex being a major themes in both films and certain trademarks of Polanski’s filming style, Repulsion couldn’t have been any more different from Tess. Whereas Tess was a gorgeously constructed period piece examining female disempowerment in a patriarchal society through the lens of one girl’s corrupted sexual awakening, Repulsion is a modern tale of the dangers of extreme sexual repression in a society no longer forcing women to be saints. I’ve seen four Polanski films now (Repulsion, Chinatown, Tess, and Rosemary’s Baby) and Repulsion has been by far the oddest of these films. At times, I couldn’t help but be reminded of David Lynch’s Eraserhead in terms of the style and themes of the film, and how disturbing the film could be despite my inability to describe what exactly was freaking me out. There aren’t a ton of movies out there that I can say legitimately frightened me, but this one totally makes my list now. While it might not be the masterpiece of modern cinema that Chinatown was, I can say that this particular Polanski film is going to stick with me deeper than Chinatown ever has.

The film has one major and glaring flaw. When it first starts out, it can be slower than Eeyore trying to find his tail after smoking some barbiturates. Even after the scares begin, the movie is never fast in execution. It just becomes so incredibly tense, that you stop noticing how slowly things are going by. However, as things first start to fall in place and we’re being introduced to the world that Carol is living in, you have to wonder to yourself a million times what exactly is this movie about and what in the hell is going on. I wasn’t really sure what it was about when I put it in my PS3, so I was becoming concerned that I had just “treated” myself to another bit of 1960’s art-house cinema that has no plot or any meaning to grasp from it. That was fortunately not the case. Although, even before things did pick up, I was at least able to appreciate the beautiful cinematography in the film which is instantly engaging, and as Carol delves deeper into her world of paranoia and madness, the camera does a perfect job of placing you as deep into her terror as she is. The camera, much like the story, puts its hooks in you and does not let go.

For fans of psychological thrillers or horror, this is a must-watch. It might be a little bit slow for a lot of people’s tastes, and its slowness is costing its score just a little bit, but that should not discourage you from giving this one a try. It’s really a shame that Roman Polanski slept with a 16 year old because I have loved practically all of his movies that I’ve seen and I can only imagine what his career would have looked like had he been allowed to stay in the United States and continue making great movies. He has a very unique mind and style, and talents like his are hard to come by. I’m obviously not saying that his talent excuses his pedophilia; I was simply saying his pedophilia didn’t exist. The only major Roman Polanski films I have left to watch that I’ve never seen are The Pianist and… it may very well just be The Pianist. As it is, I’m looking forward to seeing that one as well. He’s a director with a powerful vision, and Repulsion was no exception. I just hope I can fall asleep tonight.

Final Score: A-

 On my grandfather’s death bed, he made a shocking admission about my family’s ethnic heritage that no one besides him had known. He told my mother that when our family left Germany in the early 1900’s and came to America, the family’s name was changed from the the more ashkenazi Jew last name Schwartz to Swartz and in an attempt to integrate ourselves into America, we ceased practicing Judaism. While I had suspected that perhaps I had Jewish heritage, none of us really knew for sure until my grandpa dropped that particular bombshell. Ever since I discovered about that aspect of my past, I’ve become fairly fascinated about discovering more about my Jewish heritage and the history of my people.

 

Even before I learned that I was Jewish, I had always been borderline obsessed with the Holocaust, particularly how so many otherwise good people were able to turn their backs on the torment and suffering of the millions of Jews being persecuted by Hitler’s regime. That moral conundrum has always seemed to me like something that would make fine fodder for a film, and with the major exception of Schindler’s List, I’ve never really seen a film that handles that question well. Cinema has a rich history of exploring the psychology of some of our most pressing and disturbing issues and the moral cowardice of being a silent partner in the slaughter of an entire people seems rife for artistic exploration. Well, I now have another film to join Schindler’s List in that company as one of the finest examinations of humanity’s darkest hour that I’ve ever seen. 1965’s The Shop on Main Street is one of the most intellectually engaging and important films that I’ve watched for this blog that is only marred by two fantasy sequences that seemingly serve no purpose in the film.

 

Set against the prelude to the “final solution” to the Jewish problem in Nazi controlled nations (specifically the former nation of Czechoslovakia in this film), a simple minded but mostly good natured Czech carpenter, Tony Brtko (Jozef Kroner) is named the Aryan manager of a local textile shop run an elderly Jewish woman, Rosalie Lautmann (Ida Kaminska). Jews have been stripped out of their rights to own or run their business and Aryans have been placed in control. However, Rosalie is so old, deaf, and blind that she is practically oblivious to the events surrounding her and thinks Tony is just helping her with the shop out of the goodness of his heart. After failing to parlay his true intentions to Rosalie, Tony simply allows her to believe things are the same and she’s still in charge while he sets himself to doing repairs around the shop. As he spends more time with Rosalie and other members of the Jewish community of the town, Tony becomes more and more attached to Rosalie and when the time finally comes where the Jews are being shipped to the concentration camps, he has to decide between his own self-interests or the life and safety of the woman whose livelihood he was meant to steal.

 

The performances from the two leads sell the entire picture. Ida Kaminska was nominated for an Oscar for her performance which is a fairly rare occurrence for foreign language roles. I can only think of a handful of times that has happened. It’s totally deserved though. She seems so willfully oblivious the entire film that when she finally realizes what is really happening, her terror is contagious. However, the real heart of the film was Jozef Kroner’s Tony because his performance carried the entire theme of the film which is one man falling under the weight of the fascist regime. He’s likeable and well done, but when he’s faced with his choices, you can see all of the strain and frustration written over every line in his face. It’s one of the most morally ambiguous roles that I can remember for a good long time, and had Kroner played Tony as too heroic or too cowardly, it would never have worked. Instead what you get is a man faced against insurmountable odds who eventually cracks under the pressure.

 

Tony has to be one of the most interesting film protagonists that I have seen in years. You can never really know a man’s character until it is tested, and had the Fascists never taken control of his village, Tony would have lived his life as a good and honest man. Ultimately, as much as I want to blame him for his actions during this film, he was one man against an army and ideology that was taking over Europe. He had an opportunity to commit at least one heroic act, but he was struck with cowardice at the end and just fed more tragedy to the flames. He could have almost been a character in a Shakespearean play because of how much tragedy was written into nearly every second of the last act of the film.

 

I actually thought the film was incredibly slow when it first started out, but all of that development and attachment building was necessary for the film’s final acts to contain all of the power that they ultimately bore. The pay off of the film wouldn’t have meant nearly as much if you hadn’t found yourself so thoroughly lost in this world. This is now the second best foreign film that I’ve watched for this blog, only slightly behind Fellini Satyricon. This would have gotten an A+ had it not been for the two fantasies towards the end that made no sense to me. Right behind this film is Let the Right One In. If you have any interest in foreign cinema, this is a no brainer. If you are interested in the sort of moral questions this film poses, once again, it’s an easy sell. Honestly, I think everyone should give this one a try. It might not necessarily be for you, but you should at least see if it is. This is fantastic film-making at work.

 Final Score: A