The Third Man
The most thoroughly satisfying and perhaps only perfect film ever made. I forget which director said they should close all the film schools and just show the students The Third Man thirty times. It bears at least a dozen reseeings, with something new and fine discovered each time. And to think that Benzedrine-riddled David O. Selznick tried to transform the fabulous final moments into a happy ending; but Carol Reed refused, standing up for all of us.
This year I found and stood in the dark Vienna doorway where Orson Welles stood when the kitty licked his shoe . . . and had my picture taken. I can find but one tiny glitch: Harry Lime’s address. It’s spoken by Joseph Cotten as “fünfzehn Josefsplatz,” but, moments later, the building with the caryatids prominently bears the number fünf. Okay, so no movie’s perfect.
Hitchcock’s best film, for my money. But then any movie with the sinister Ivan Triesault gets my vote. He’s the one who takes Claude Rains in the final moments for his last ride, for us and for Claude. I wonder if, even in real life, the villainous Triesault could smile. The suspense in the wine cellar upsets my nerves every time.
Tokyo monogatari, perhaps better known to non-Nipponophiles as Tokyo Story. Any film by the great Yasujiro Ozu will do, especially if it has Japan’s walked-away-in-mid-career huge star, the divine, mysterious, heart-seducing Setsuko Hara, who, Garbo-like and at the peak of her popularity, vanished into obscurity, never to return to the screen. I discovered her hideout in Kamakura, Japan, and briefly glimpsed her, refuting my cabdriver’s assurance that she was long dead. She lives yet, in her mid-nineties. Don’t pass this way without losing your heart to Miss Hara—Japan’s “eternal virgin”—on the screen. Also, same film, the great Chishu Ryu, who teaches the entire acting profession how to play, at a still youngish age, an ancient and enfeebled oldster. He is, one critic said, “old in his bones.”
Children of Paradise
The brilliant teacher I had for a Shakespeare seminar at Yale (Joel Dorius) asked us one day if we had an idea of what heaven, for us, would consist of. What you’d hope it would be. His own answer: “Just to sit in a screening room, watching Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise projected repeatedly and endlessly throughout eternity.” Hard to argue with that when you see and resee this classic. Dorius’s version of heaven beats hell out of harps and angels.
Sweet Smell of Success
Love this film, partly and somewhat irrationally because it preserves in amber the Times Square part of Manhattan as it was when I first knew it, with glimpses of fondly remembered theaters, dance halls, pool halls, the Camel sign, etc., etc. Not the gaudy, blinding array of plastic junk that area is now. You can even see the late and fondly remembered Hotel Astor. Burt Lancaster has never thrilled me, but he’s awfully good in this, and the movie does thrill.
Kind Hearts and Coronets
Alec Guinness’s stunning versatility, playing a whole cast’s worth of characters, combined with his comic genius makes this a movie that should be enshrined. Funny how Guinness gets credit in many people’s faulty memories for Dennis Price’s high style performance. Can there be people who’ve never seen this treasure? Even once? How sad.
Allan Arkush’s Top 10
Allan Arkush is an Emmy-winning television director and executive producer of NBC’s hit series Heroes. Arkush's directing credits also include the Ramones’ cult classic Rock ’n’ Roll High School, which Rolling Stone magazine named as one of t…
Tracy Letts’s Top 10
Tracy Letts is an American playwright, screenwriter, and actor. He received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for drama for August: Osage County and a Tony Award for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?