Sunday, January 01, 2012

Tonight's Movie in 2011: The Year in Review

2011 was another great movie year, with my total of 226 movies seen surpassing my totals for 2010 (211 films) and 2009 (220 films). I was comfortably ahead of my minimum goal to see 208 films per year.

15 of the 226 films seen last year were repeat viewings, up by two from the previous year. There's always a pull between wanting to revisit previously seen films and trying movies never seen before, and usually the completely unknown titles win. Most often this year I revisited films when I had the chance to see them on a big screen or in a brand-new DVD, often from the Warner Archive.

For those who are curious, I've written about how I find the time to watch movies in my posts on 2009 and 2010, linked in the first paragraph.

As I wrote last year, one of the great pleasures of blogging is being able to share my movie viewing experiences with others, hopefully leading fellow film fans to look for some of the same titles I've enjoyed. Below is a look back at some of the highlights of last year's viewing. It's impossible to list all the films seen last year or go into great detail in this post, but I hope the links shared here might provide a resource for readers to explore ideas for their own viewing in the months to come.

...This year Loretta Young was the actress seen by me in the most films. I saw seven Young films for the first time in 2011: PLATINUM BLONDE (1931), THE CRUSADES (1935), WIFE, DOCTOR AND NURSE (1937), FOUR MEN AND A PRAYER (1939), THE LADY FROM CHEYENNE (1941), THE PERFECT MARRIAGE (1947), and MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN (1949). THE CRUSADES made the biggest impression, especially as it was screened at UCLA in a beautiful 35mm print.

...Other actresses seen most frequently in 2011 include Gail Russell (thanks to my friend Carrie, a fellow Russell fan), Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, Joan Bennett, Virginia Bruce, Jane Greer, Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert, and Frances Dee.

...It's a three-way tie for the most viewed actor of 2011, with Fred MacMurray, Glenn Ford, and William Lundigan seen in six films apiece. I love that Lundigan, a relatively unappreciated actor, ranked so high on the list; I have more of his films stashed away to watch in 2012!

...Other actors seen most often in 2011: Dick Powell, Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Ray Milland, Robert Montgomery, Robert Young, Richard Conte, George Sanders, Robert Mitchum, John Lund, Edward G. Robinson, Richard Carlson, Dan Duryea, and Zachary Scott.

...The highlight of my movie viewing year was the Noir City Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood last April. I treated the festival as a mini-vacation and cut back on my work and other commitments, attending an amazing 14 films in seven double bills. Only three of the films, HIGH WALL (1947), THE BRIBE (1949), and CAUGHT (1949), had been previously seen and reviewed here, and it was wonderful seeing those films on a big screen. As a Robert Taylor fan, I especially appreciated the chance to see a pair of his films in a theater for the first time. And what a thrill to meet Marsha Hunt!

The eleven films I saw for the first time at Noir City were STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944), WHIPLASH (1948), THE HUNTED (1948), THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS (1947), THE DARK MIRROR (1946), JOURNEY INTO FEAR (1943), FEMALE ON THE BEACH (1955), HAZARD (1948), BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952), FRAMED (1947), and MR. SOFT TOUCH (1949).

...Other films enjoyed at the Egyptian this year were MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934) and a really terrific Julie Adams double bill, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) -- complete with old-fashioned paper 3D glasses! -- and BEND OF THE RIVER (1952), one of my favorite James Stewart movies. Meeting Miss Adams made the evening extra-special!

...Along with the Noir City festival, UCLA provided some of the most enjoyable movie viewing of the year. CRY DANGER (1951), with its witty script and great L.A. locations, was one of my favorite films of the year and one of my all-time favorite films starring Dick Powell. As I mentioned above, DeMille's THE CRUSADES (1935) was a truly stunning big-screen experience. I also enjoyed a night of Robert Mitchum Westerns, PURSUED (1947) and the previously reviewed BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948); I've always liked PURSUED, and BLOOD ON THE MOON is a gem more people should know. In August I also attended a Jean Harlow double bill, HOLD YOUR MAN (1933) and RED-HEADED WOMAN (1932), again in shimmering 35-millimeter prints.

...As the year began, I jotted down a list of 10 classic films I'd never seen that I wanted to make a particular effort to watch in 2011. Although I didn't get to "work" viewing the titles on my list until this past summer, I saw nine of them; I've pushed the final film on the list, SUNSET BLVD. (1950), to 2012, as I hope to see it on a big screen later today! (Update: Here's the review. My 2010 "classics" list is now complete!)

It was a rewarding experience catching up with these great films for the very first time, listed in the order I saw them: SHANE (1953), DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (1941), BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955), STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951), THE LADY EVE (1941), BALL OF FIRE (1941), THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955), and VERTIGO (1958). And what great luck that I was able to see SHANE and VERTIGO in theaters!

No matter how many films I've seen, there are still countless titles ahead of me for a first viewing, including additional significant classics. I've been making a fresh list of 10 classics to see this year, and I plan to share it in advance this year; I should have a post up in a couple of days.

...I saw very few "new" movies in theaters this year: MONEYBALL (2011), THE IDES OF MARCH (2011), ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (2011), THE MUPPETS (2011), and THE DESCENDANTS (2011). I also caught THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) and SOUL SURFER (2011) on DVD. This is roughly half the number of "new" films I saw in theaters the previous year, but on the other hand the number of classic films I saw in theaters jumped enormously. All of these recent films were worthwhile to varying degrees, particularly SOUL SURFER and the two films which starred George Clooney, but I'd have to say the film I enjoyed the most of this group was the completely delightful and creative ARTHUR CHRISTMAS.

...The worst movie seen this year was probably FORT BOWIE (1958). I adore Ben Johnson, but this Western was a turkey from start to finish.

...Below is a month-by-month look back at additional titles which made the biggest impressions in 2011; I didn't list a great many of the films I saw, or this post would be twice as long!

...January started off well, thanks to Toby, with TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950), a charming Christmas Western starring Roy Rogers and Jack Holt...EMERGENCY HOSPITAL (1956) was a fun little find on Netflix Instant, with Margaret Lindsay and Rita Johnson working the night shift at an L.A. hospital...Ruth Hussey was outstanding in WITHIN THE LAW (1939), a "B" level remake of Joan Crawford's PAID (1931), with good supporting performances by Rita Johnson and Paul Kelly...I was delighted to finally catch up with Gail Russell in CALCUTTA (1947), costarring Alan Ladd, and THE UNSEEN (1945), with Joel McCrea...99 RIVER STREET (1953) was top film noir starring John Payne and Evelyn Keyes...I saw more of Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray's films with THE BRIDE COMES HOME (1936) and FAMILY HONEYMOON (1949)...I enjoyed a wonderful "50 and Fabulous" Golden Anniversary screening of ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS (1961) at the Disney Studios lot, with cast members Lisa Davis and David Frankham in attendance...and what classic film fan wouldn't love GREEN HELL (1940), a jungle adventure with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joan Bennett, George Sanders and Vincent Price?

...Early February had a real treat in store, Fritz Lang's THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944) with Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea...Claude Rains, beautiful music, and incredible Technicolor made PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943) a feast for the eyes and ears...I thought Lang's MINISTRY OF FEAR (1944), starring Ray Milland, was fantastic, rivaling Hitchcock...I saw the interesting documentary WALT AND EL GRUPO (2008), about Disney and the "Good Neighbor" policy of the '40s, on the USC campus...NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1949) was an atmospheric filming of a Cornell Woolrich story with Gail Russell, Edward G. Robinson, and John Lund...the superb D.O.A. (1950), starring Edmond O'Brien, was my contribution to the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon...I crossed another Deanna Durbin film off my list with ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL (1937)...and I saw THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943) for the very first time, with Joan Fontaine's stunningly perfect performance. How wonderful that my next viewing of that film will be on a remastered Warner Archive DVD!

...March brought a fun little film noir from the Warner Archive, Lawrence Tierney and Priscilla Lane in BODYGUARD (1948)...I enjoyed another Disney Studios 50th Anniversary screening, this time Fred MacMurray and Nancy Olson in THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961)...I'm always glad to see a William Lundigan film, and in March it was ELOPEMENT (1951) with Anne Francis...I enjoyed two imperfect but interesting films from 1947, SINGAPORE (1947), starring Fred MacMurray and Ava Gardner, and CRY WOLF (1947) with Barbara Stanwyck and Errol Flynn...March was the month for flawed but worthwhile films, another being GOODBYE, MY FANCY (1951) with Joan Crawford.

...All the films I saw in the first half of April were at the Noir City Festival. After the festival ended, the film noir theme continued at home with the very enjoyable SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946), starring John Hodiak, Nancy Guild, Richard Conte, and Lloyd Nolan, whose work in that film is notably excellent...Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard were delightful in the romantic comedy THE CRYSTAL BALL (1943)...the colors in BACHELOR IN PARADISE (1961) are absolutely eye-popping, a real visual treasure...MADE ON BROADWAY (1933) was a fun pre-Code, starring Robert Montgomery and Madge Evans, which I saw thanks to Kristina...WALK EAST ON BEACON! (1952) was an entertaining FBI procedural from the Cold War era, with future senator George Murphy starring as an FBI man in his last movie.

...May was an especially outstanding movie month, and it's hard to choose just a few titles to highlight! It started off with a pair of films starring Merle Oberon and George Sanders, directed by John Brahm, THE LODGER (1944) and HANGOVER SQUARE (1945)...I thought Dick Powell's intricately plotted docu-noir TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH (1948) was excellent viewing...RUN FOR THE SUN (1956) was a colorful reworking of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932), starring a pair of favorites, Richard Widmark and Jane Greer...BLACK ANGEL (1946) was an excellent noir starring June Vincent and Dan Duryea, in a heartbreaking performance...Joan Bennett famously switched from blonde to brunette in TRADE WINDS (1938), though the rest of the movie, which costarred Fredric March and Ann Sothern, could have been better...THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL (1951) was a memorable San Francisco noir with Richard Basehart, Valentina Cortese, and William Lundigan, and a good supporting performance by Fay Baker...CONFLICT (1945) was a most enjoyable film with Bogie as a wife killer who longs for his young sister-in-law, Alexis Smith...NO MAN OF HER OWN (1952), which comes to DVD this year, was an outstanding romantic drama with Barbara Stanwyck and John Lund...THE GALLANT HOURS (1960), with James Cagney as Admiral Halsey, directed and narrated by Robert Montgomery, made a big impression from the very first scene; it was a superb film.

...In June I enjoyed Robert Montgomery in the witty P.G. Wodehouse comedy PICCADILLY JIM (1936)...I also really liked Hedy Lamarr in DISHONORED LADY (1947), about a reformed party girl entangled in a murder case...I saw THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) for the first time...HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949) was an absorbing family drama with excellent performances by Richard Conte, Susan Hayward, and Edward G. Robinson...Conte was also first-rate as the expectant father in FULL OF LIFE (1956), a very good film indeed, which also starred Judy Holliday...I thoroughly enjoyed Romy Schneider in the German-language film THE STORY OF VICKIE (1954), a fictional story about the love of the young Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

...We "staycationed" at home in July, and naturally lots of movies were involved! July led off with William Lundigan in a well-done little "B" noir, the 59-minute FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949); this movie had one of the scariest scenes of all last year's movies...ESCORT WEST (1958), from John Wayne's Batjac Productions, was a good "movie comfort food" kind of Western with Victor Mature leading a strong cast including Elaine Stewart, Faith Domergue, and familiar Western faces Ken Curtis, Harry Carey Jr., Noah Beery Jr., and Leo Gordon...STATION WEST (1948) was a wonderful discovery, a well-written Western noir starring Dick Powell and Jane Greer, featuring the singing of Burl Ives...THE GAL WHO TOOK THE WEST (1949) was one of my favorite films of 2011, a delightful Western comedy with Yvonne DeCarlo choosing between John Russell and Scott Brady, while trying to keep them from killing each other...THE VANISHING VIRGINIAN (1942) was another favorite discovery of the year, a lovely family film with especially good performances by Frank Morgan, Spring Byington, and 19-year-old Kathryn Grayson...I got a kick out of Doris Day and Jack Kelly landing a plane in Andrew L. Stone's JULIE (1956), a film in which Day is stalked by husband Louis Jourdan...THE MAKIOKA SISTERS (1983) was an absorbing, culturally broadening Japanese film set in pre-WWII Japan...WHERE THE BOYS ARE (1960) was perfect summer entertainment, with an excellent cast of young actors including Dolores Hart, Paula Prentiss, and Connie Stevens...I really enjoyed AIR CADET (1951), a semi-documentary procedural about the training of Air Force pilots...and I also liked BOYS' RANCH (1946), an MGM family film with James Craig and Dorothy Patrick.

...Moving on to August, I was very happy to see the husband-wife acting team of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee in WELLS FARGO (1937)...the pre-Code comedy BOMBSHELL (1933), starring Jean Harlow, had an unusual setting in the film industry...GUEST IN THE HOUSE (1944) was an interesting drama about the negative impact Anne Baxter has when she moves in with a family headed by Ralph Bellamy and Ruth Warrick...I loved THE BACHELOR'S DAUGHTERS (1946), an unusual Andrew L. Stone film about the creation of a new family, with a cast including Gail Russell, Ann Dvorak, Jane Wyatt, Claire Trevor, Billie Burke, Adolphe Menjou, and featuring the music of pianist Eugene List...the Universal Vault DVD release of the Western TOMAHAWK (1951) has to be one of the best-looking DVDs I watched last year. It stars Van Heflin and Yvonne DeCarlo...and I was very glad to finally see RIDE THE PINK HORSE (1947), directed by and starring Robert Montgomery. I wasn't quite certain what I thought of the film when I saw it, but I've found it's a movie that's "stayed with me" ever since.

...Moving into September, one of my favorite Netflix Instant finds of the year was HIGHWAY DRAGNET (1954), a film noir starring Richard Conte, Joan Bennett, Wanda Hendrix, and Reed Hadley, with absolutely terrific location filming at the Apple Valley Inn and the Salton Sea...I liked John Lund and Joan Fontaine in another Netflix Instant film, DARLING, HOW COULD YOU! (1951), a somewhat silly but sweet period comedy based on a play by J.M. Barrie...I had a good run of Netflix Instant films going in September, with the Andrew L. Stone film CONFIDENCE GIRL (1952), starring Tom Conway and Hillary Brooke, proving to be interesting...what a pleasure to revisit ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948) for the first time in years, with its gorgeous Technicolor and Doris Day's star-making performance...I also liked CORONER CREEK (1948), a Randolph Scott Western based on a Luke Short story.

...In October, I found MGM's LATIN LOVERS (1953) to be colorful fun, starring Lana Turner, Ricardo Montalban, and John Lund...I was moved by THE LION KING (1994), which I saw for the first time in a theater...I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) was a terrifically atmospheric Val Lewton thriller some have compared to JANE EYRE, starring Frances Dee and Tom Conway...SEVEN SINNERS (1936) was an enjoyable early Gilliat-Launder film with Edmund Lowe and Constance Cummings exchanging witty repartee and traveling by train, paving the way for the filmmakers' later THE LADY VANISHES (1938) and NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940)...BEHIND LOCKED DOORS (1948) was a particularly nifty film noir with favorites Richard Carlson and Lucille Bremer...UNION DEPOT (1932) is a must for pre-Code fans, starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Blondell; don't miss the spectacular opening tracking shot...I got a kick out of Richard Carlson as an "A-man" trying to tame THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (1953)...and I really liked the Ronald Reagan Western LAW AND ORDER (1953).

...I gave a thumbs up to DANGER SIGNAL (1945), a Warner Bros. noir with Zachary Scott, Faye Emerson, and Rosemary DeCamp...I started the most enjoyable FALCON "B" mystery series with George Sanders in THE GAY FALCON (1941)...SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957) was one of the finest films I saw in 2011, with stunning black and white cinematography by James Wong Howe...Thanks to my friend Mel I was able to see William Lundigan in the Robert Wise "B" noir MYSTERY IN MEXICO (1948), which I enjoyed very much...SO PROUDLY WE HAIL! (1943), about nurses serving on Bataan and Corregidor during WWII, made a big impression, with superb performances by Claudette Colbert and the Oscar-nominated Paulette Goddard...I liked two Ann Rutherford "B" movies, BERMUDA MYSTERY (1944) with Preston Foster and OPERATION HAYLIFT (1950) with Bill Williams; the latter was a particularly fine docudrama based on a true story about the U.S. Air Force saving herds of sheep and cattle after a blizzard...YOU NEVER CAN TELL (1951) was a delightful fantasy about a murdered dog who comes back to life in human form (played by Dick Powell) to solve his own killing...HIRED WIFE (1940) was an especially good Rosalind Russell-Brian Aherne comedy, with a witty script...and I enjoyed revisiting Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor in the entertaining little MGM musical I LOVE MELVIN (1953) for the first time in years.

...As the year drew to a close, December started off with seeing another  Debbie Reynolds movie I hadn't watched in a long time, GIVE A GIRL A BREAK (1953). It has great dancing by Bob Fosse and Marge and Gower Champion...I enjoyed Henry Winkler in the Christmas TV-movie THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR (2008) so much that I bought my own copy to enjoy in future Christmas seasons...I marked Deanna Durbin's 90th birthday with SOMETHING IN THE WIND (1947), and couldn't get the catchy music, especially "The Turntable Song," out of my head for days!...I love police procedurals, and BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN (1950) was a good one, with Edmond O'Brien, Mark Stevens, and Gale Storm...I revisited seasonal favorites THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1942) and MY REPUTATION (1946)...and I thoroughly enjoyed watching IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947) for the first time and adding it to my list of films to see again at Christmastime in the future.

I very much appreciate all of you who stop by regularly to check out "Tonight's Movie," and I wish my readers good health, happiness, and lots of classic movies in 2012!

Previously: Tonight's Movie in 2010: The Year in Review and Tonight's Movie in 2009: The Year in Review.


Blogger Irene said...

I've said this before, but thanks to your blogs about your movie of the night and thanks to the library and YouTube I've been able to watch a lot of classic films. I currently have two in transit for pick up at the library and some still in the pipeline. One of my favorite movies that you directed me to with your posts about Alfred Hitchcock was "Strangers on a Trains". That was an edge of my seat movie from start to finish. Whereas you saw less movies at the theater this year, I saw more than usual. My favorite movie for this year was viewed just like week - "The Artist". Thanks for the time you take to write each day and your very interesting blog. Happy New Year and maybe once again we will run into each other at Disneyland or a Disney event :)

5:19 PM  
Blogger KC said...

What a list Laura. Holy cow! I'm going to have to give it another look to see if there's something I really want to see. It always amazes me how many reviews you write.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Irene! Can't tell you how happy it makes me to know I've helped you locate some good movies. I love knowing you also liked STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, wasn't it great? Thank you *so* much for sharing this feedback.

Now that I've finally been to the Bay Theatre, perhaps we can meet there sometime for an "old" movie!

Happy New Year,

10:39 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi KC,

Thanks for your note, it's always so nice to hear from you! Hope you might find some titles here to jot down and look for in the coming year. As you may know, whenever possible I try to note in reviews the various options for seeing movies of interest, whether on DVD, VHS, or streaming. So many good movies out there to enjoy! :)

Happy 2012,

10:42 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Wow, what a list! You know, I often drop in at your blog and search or browse the archives when I'm trying to think of something for the Netflix queue. I enjoy your reviews.

I caught up with quite a few classics this year too, but without meaning to - Gentleman's Agreement, Gaslight, The Third Man, Random Harvest, etc. Among the better-known films the big standout for me was 12 Angry Men. I'm planning to do a blog post soon on favorite films of the year to follow up my list of favorite books. I like making lists. :)

12:15 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

You had a wonderful year of movie viewing and reviewing, Laura. I've realised that I actually saw about the same number of films as you, but didn't manage to write about very many of them - I find it amazing how you manage to give your impressions of so many, with something new to enjoy on your blog almost every day. A Happy New Year to you!

12:28 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

Just read your post about the Bay and wrote something there. Yes, it would be fun to meet there sometime. I'm hoping that maybe they can pick up The Artist to show there. I'd go see it again in a heartbeat! Their older movies are also great and you sure can't beat the price of admission!

12:47 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Elisabeth,

I love knowing you search my blog for Netflix inspiration, that's marvelous!

You did catch a number of great classics! 12 ANGRY MEN is my 13-year-old son's very favorite movie. I've still got to catch that one!

I like lists too, as may be apparent from my year-end post (grin)...I look forward to your list of favorites!

Best wishes,

6:00 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Judy,

I always enjoy your posts! You've done such a great job working your way through the early Wellman films. Your posts have such depth, I have really learned a great deal reading them. I'd love to read more by you if you have the time -- fun to know that we saw a similar quota of movies last year. It's been fun having more time for movies now that my children are older and more independent -- especially since they like to watch them too. :)

Best wishes,

6:02 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Irene,

How interesting you liked THE ARTISTS so much! My oldest daughter saw it at the Arclight in Hollywood and very much enjoyed it -- she made a list of her favorite films of last year and I believe that was in the top 5 or 10.

I'm sure we'll be seeing each other somewhere, sometime in 2012! :)

Best wishes,

6:04 PM  

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