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Private Violence

A look at the complexity of domestic violence, especially when it comes to the difficulty of prosecuting abusers in a court of law, "Private Violence"…

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Rudderless

If this directorial outing was in any sense an audition for the talented Mr. Macy, he should be congratulated on passing it.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

#229 July 30, 2014

Sheila writes: Author John le Carré wrote a gorgeous and painful reminiscence of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the New York Times. Le Carre wrote, in part: "... His intuition was luminous from the instant you met him. So was his intelligence. A lot of actors act intelligent, but Philip was the real thing: a shining, artistic polymath with an intelligence that came at you like a pair of headlights and enveloped you from the moment he grabbed your hand, put a huge arm round your neck and shoved a cheek against yours; or if the mood took him, hugged you to him like a big, pudgy schoolboy, then stood and beamed at you while he took stock of the effect."

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#228 July 23, 2014

Sheila writes: "Life Itself" has been getting wonderful reviews all over the country, and in case you missed it, Chaz Ebert appeared on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" on July 18th, to discuss the film and Roger. July 18th also marked Chaz and Roger's 22nd anniversary and so the moment was especially poignant. It was a great interview, funny and emotional, and you can see the clip here.

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#174 July 1, 2013

Marie writes: The West Coast is currently experiencing a heat wave and I have no air conditioning. That said, and despite it currently being 80F inside my apartment, at least the humidity is low. Although not so low, that I don't have a fan on my desk and big glass of ice tea at the ready. My apartment thankfully faces East and thus enjoys the shade after the sun has crossed the mid-point overhead. And albeit perverse in its irony, it's because it has been so hot lately that I've been in the mood to watch the following film again and which I highly recommend to anyone with taste and a discerning eye.

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On "The Rack" with Paul Newman and Stewart Stern

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• "The Rack" (1956) • "Until They Sail" (1957) • "The Prize" (1963) • "Tales of Tomorrow: Ice From Space" (1953)"The Rack," "Until They Sail" and "The Prize" are now available on made-to-order DVD from the Warner Archive Collection for $19.95 each. "Tales of Tomorrow" can be viewed on Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.

by Jeff Shannon You would think that every film Paul Newman ever appeared in would be readily available on home video, right? Guess again. One of the best films from Newman's early career has managed to slip through the cracks of home-video distribution for decades, and unless you're old enough to have seen it in theaters or on TV over the years, it's possible you've never even heard of it. So when I heard that "The Rack" (1956) was available on home video for the very first time, I couldn't wait to break the news to Stewart Stern.

For anyone who's wondering "Stewart who?" there's a convenient shortcut you can use when discussing the impressive life and career of Stewart Stern. All you have to say is, "He wrote 'Rebel Without a Cause.'" Uh-huh, that one. With a credit like that, any screenwriter could legitimately claim a slice of movie immortality, like James Dean did as the now-iconic star of Nicholas Ray's 1955 teen-angst classic. But to say that Stern only wrote "Rebel" is a bit like saying Frank Lloyd Wright designed a house. In the course of his distinguished, decades-spanning career, Stern wrote rich, psychologically perceptive scripts that were magnets for great actors and great acting: His script for "The Ugly American" (1963) gave Brando plenty to chew on; his Oscar-nominated script for "Rachel, Rachel" (1968) gave Joanne Woodward what is arguably the best role of her career (under the direction of her husband, Paul Newman; they also earned Oscar nods); and Stern's Emmy and Peabody-winning teleplay for "Sybil" (1976) transformed cute TV actress Sally Field into an Emmy winner with a pair of Oscars in her future. A few years later, Stern left Hollywood, weary of the rat race and struggling with writer's block, the delayed effect of post-traumatic stress from service in World War II. In the mid-'80s, Stern relocated to Seattle and never looked back. And while Stern may have been a nephew of Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor, with additional family ties to MGM moguls Arthur Loew Sr. and Jr., his closest Hollywood connection was more personal and more warmly indicative of the man's soul and spirit: For 55 years, Stewart Stern was one of Paul Newman's very best friends.

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Hef goes West

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This story, found at last, has been long lost in the remote recesses of the Sun-Times archives. I wrote it for Midwest magazine, the paper's old Sunday supplement. For easier reading, there is a plain text version just below.

By Roger Ebert Holmby Hills, California

I. THE ACTUAL WILD GAME

The grounds, I was assured by a Playboy public relations man, make up a 5.1-acre compound. The site is surrounded by a brick fence, penetrated at two points by winding roads which are each three-quarters of a mile in length, one having to wind a bit more than the other to achieve that distance.

Inside the brick wall, he said, "is an actual forest, an actual wooded forest composed of giant redwood trees, and actual wild game roams in the actual park."

Wild game? I said. What kind of wild game?

"We don't know," he said.

You never do, do you? Wasn't it H. P. Lovecraft who suggested that one never knows, really, what lurks in the woods, gathering strength there in the dampness and dark, preparing for the day when it will spring out and gobble up children and little bunny rabbits? Yes.

I imagine maybe one of the first things Hugh Hefner will want to do, after he gets really settled in the Playboy Mansion West, will be to gather about him a hardy band of cronies and stage a safari through that 5.1-acre actual wooded area, identifying, where possible, the wild game that roams there. It will have to be a camera safari, of course, since one is not allowed to discharge firearms within Los Angeles County itself.

II. THE GREENING OF THE RAIN DRAINS

The mansion, I was told, has been appraised at $2 million including the grounds, the two greenhouses and the gardener's cottage. The furnishings are worth another $500,000. The place was designed in 1927 by an architect named Arthur Kelly, who specialized in mansions for the very rich. The difference between the very rich and you and me is that their mansions don't look like other people's mansions.

The mansion was occupied first by a man named Arthur Letts Jr., heir of a department store owner. It belonged most recently to Louis Statham, of the Statham Instruments. For the last 4 1/2 years, it has served as the unofficial hospitality residence of the City of Los Angeles, and the king and queen of Thailand have stayed there.

The mansion has 30 rooms and has been described as sort of Tudor Gothic or, according to Joyce Haber, a cross between Forest Lawn and "The Phantom of the Opera." But to be more specific, the Playboy public relations man painted a word-picture for me:

"It is a handcrafted fortress, with walls 18 inches thick made from reinforced concrete and stone. It has a slate roof, it has turrets, all kinds of turrets in the house, and archways, there's archways all over the place. Doors of golden oak, band-hewn. The rain drains have a kind of a little greenish tint to them because of the age, looking very, very rustic.

You enter the mansion through giant golden oak doors that swing right into the mansion's Great Hall, which is a very great hall. A shimmering crystal chandelier hangs overhead, and when you open the front door and walk in, you step right on an Italian marble floor. Windows extend from the floor to the ceiling... oak paneling is all around you... a Grand Staircase, the focal point of the Great Hall, consists of two separate sets of stairs that are curved from the main level right up to the upper level, forming a sloping, graceful arch, and, hanging right in the middle, there is a very many-tiered chandelier..."

III. WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE CATERPILLARS?

On the evening after the Academy Awards ceremony, I stepped through the band-hewn golden oak doors and paused for a moment on the Italian marble floor. My eyes lifted briefly to the many-tiered chandelier, and then rested on the Grand Staircase, where an assortment of Hefner's guests reclined on the stairs and watched the new arrivals.

This was Hefner's official housewarming for Playboy Mansion West, and there were two bands, two tents (one indoors, one outdoors) and a fire in the fireplace in every room. I walked through the Great Hall and found myself outside the mansion again, in the outdoor tent, where a band was playing and people were lined up three deep at the bar. Over in the distance, beyond the tent, giant orange Caterpillar earthmoving equipment was outlined against the night sky, with floodlights on them. I wandered back inside, and found myself in the living room, or one of the living rooms, talking to Jon Anderson, the columnist.

"Are you writing about this?" he said.

I guess so, I said.

"On deadline, or..."

No, I said, I'll be doing it for Midwest. Probably won't appear for a month or so.

"Good," said Jon. "Then I can show you something."

He led me across the room to the giant fireplace and pointed above it. There was a large reproduction of the "Mona Lisa" on the wall, done in needlepoint with a gold plaque underneath that said, "Barbi Benton - 1970."

Isn't that something, I said.

"We're going to use it in our column," Jon said. "It adds a nice, homey touch to the place, don't you think?"

Sure does, I said. Wilt Chamberlain's belt buckle passed by at eye level.

"It looks like one of those paint-by-number things, only in needlepoint," Jon said.

Wilt Chamberlain certainly is tall, I said.

"Needle-by-number," Jon said. "Or... point-by-point."

I wonder how long it took her, I said.

"It looks pretty complicated," Jon said. "The smile alone..."

Yes, I said, just the smile alone...

"Have you seen her?" Jon said.

Who?

"Barbi."

Not yet, I said. Just then Hugh Hefner himself walked into the room and nodded at everybody.

"Wonderful party, Hef," Jon said.

"Glad you're enjoying yourself," Hefner said. "We were worried right up to the last minute that we'd invited too many people. Then somebody came up with the inspiration of the outside tent, to handle the overflow. Now things are going great."

We nodded, and the three of us looked round the living room. Guests and bunnies and girls you vaguely recognized as former Playmates were all sitting around and, apparently, having great times. Big piles of floor-pillows were stacked here and there, but most everybody was sticking to chairs.

"The one problem with the outside tent," Hefner said, "was what to do about the bulldozers."

I was wondering about them, I said.

"We're digging a swimming pool back there," Hefner said. "Somebody said we should put potted trees in front of them, camouflage them somehow, but we finally decided, the hell with it, why not light them up as modem art or something. So that's what we did."

Somebody grabbed Hefner by the arm to introduce him to fresh guests, and Jon and I wondered back out onto the patio.

"Five centuries of art," Jon said.

What?

"From the 'Mona Lisa' to the Caterpillar."

Which one, I said, do you think will turn into a butterfly first?

"Hard to say," said Jon.

IV. TWO MALE LIONS

I left the tent and strolled alone through a portion of the 5.l-acre grounds. Stone walks surrounded the house, and from the front you could hear the excitement of new arrivals, pouring out of their limousines and Yellow Cabs and hurrying through the giant golden oak doors.

My steps led me some distance from the house, and the sound of the rock band came drifting to me...

Rap... rap... rap... they call him the rapper...

Something caused me to think about a character I hadn't thought of in some time, the Great Gatsby. There's a scene in that novel by Fitzgerald telling of the almost nightly arrival of fresh carloads of guests, all eager to share Jay Gatsby's fabulous hospitality, and to glory in his famous home. Later on in the novel, Gatsby's hospitality comes to a sudden end, but not all the guests get the word, and for several weekends thereafter, cars continue to come out from the city and pull into the silent driveway, and then leave when they see there's no party.

At any given moment in history, I decided, there is a man whose job it is to give famous parties. Sometimes he is a fictional person, sometimes he is real. Sometimes he is the Great Gatsby, sometimes William Randolph Hearst, or Hugh Hefner...

Coming back toward the house, I found myself suddenly in the presence of two stone lions. They flanked a short flight of steps and gazed back toward Los Angeles. They both had manes, which meant they were both males. I decided their names were Bill and Hugh, Bill on the right looking over somewhat curiously at his neighbor.

V. TWO MORE MALE LIONS

Back inside the tent, Ryan O'Neal was leaning against the bar with a drink in his hand and looking out over the tables to the dance floor at the other end of the tent. There was something in his look that seemed peculiar until I got it figured out. Then it seemed understandable enough. Ryan O'Neal wasn't looking out over the crowd. He was in the act of being Ryan O'Neal looking out over the crowd. Does that make any sense? What I mean is, he wasn't really looking; he was aware of himself as Ryan O'Neal, being seen to be looking.

That doesn't say it either, but the hell with it. The fourth lion was Jim Brown, who moved through the crowd with a kind of dangerous grace, attracting a great deal of attention even though he was apparently doing nothing to inspire it. People, were wondering, I suppose, whether he had really thrown that girl off the balcony, etc.

Some people occupy space differently than others. Jim Brown encloses space while Ryan O'Neal merely fills it.

VI. TWICE AS BIG AS ILLINOIS

There were girls everywhere, but they seemed to be filling space like Ryan O'Neal and not like Jim Brown. It occurred to me that a lot of the girls you see at parties like this lack some dimension, the third or the fourth, maybe. They are pretty and they smile, but they're girls, not women.

Why? Because they lack the final measure of self-confidence to be women, I think. The Playboy girl is a commodity, to some degree; she is an image to be packaged and merchandised, as much of a symbol as a Chevrolet or a Baggie. Her success depends upon your acceptance of her. If you like her, if she "turns you on," then she has succeeded. But if she doesn't, then she's failed as everything: Girl, symbol, commodity.

A girl who is uncertain at her core can never be really interesting, no matter how beautiful she may appear to be on the surface. She isn't really there, and that fact frightens her. There were some real women there. Polly Bergen and Edy Williams (two names you might not have expected to come across on the same list) had that dimension. You felt they were people, and knew they were people. But a lot of the Bunnies seemed oddly transparent.

Some people have the notion that a Hefner party is sexy and sensuous and the next thing to a genteel sort of orgy. Hefner's parties are fun, but in an entirely different way than the image would suggest. The food is good, the booze is free and keeps coming, and there are sure to be interesting people there. It's just that, somehow, all these people who look like such good friends when Playboy runs a layout about a Hefner party aren't good friends - have probably just met tonight - and are having a conventionally good time. We've all read about that little room behind the waterfall in Hef's Chicago swimming pool, but what good is the little room when people inside it are clearly visible? A Hefner party is like that little room: You swim beneath the waterfall, but, inside, the lights stay on.

And so, finally, the conversation gets around to Hefner himself (the conversational obsession at most of his own parties), and you wonder whether this turns him on, and how much he enjoys it. My private notion is that he enjoys it a lot; who wouldn't? If I had his fortune, I'd throw parties all the time for my friends. Wouldn't you? I think throwing the parties would be more fun than attending them.

Perhaps that's at the core of Playboy Mansion West: Now there can be great parties in California, just as there have been for years in Chicago, and all of this year's Hollywood people can come and mingle and talk, be photographed by the omnipresent Playboy photographers, eat expensive beef, watch the shrimp cocktail bowl being constantly replenished, name their brand of Scotch, wonder who everybody else is (and who they are) and try not to think about the stone lions.

Wondering down the Grand Staircase, I passed two guests who were talking about the Mansion West.

"How does this place stack up with his other place?" the first guest said.

"This one is twice as big as Illinois" said the second.

"It must be great to have two places," said the first.

"Better than only having one," the second said.

VII. INTRODUCTION IN THE FORM OF A SEQUEL

All these things and thoughts occurred the night after the Academy Awards. On the night before the Academy Awards, there was a big party at Le Bistro, the famous Beverly Hills club.

Hefner came with Barbi on his arm and seemed to be having a great time. Edward G. Robinson, who was also there, offered Hefner some pipe tobacco that, Robinson said, acted as an aphrodisiac. Hefner and Robinson shared a good laugh over that, and then Hefner moved easily through the room, talking to people. The party was crowded and noisy, and there was a band and lots of good things to eat and drink. But by 11 o'clock or so the people started to drift away (they don't stay up late in Hollywood; they're home by midnight, usually).

Hefner and Barbi left, and then there were maybe only 20 people remaining; the hard core who had negotiated special arrangements with the waiters to bring the booze to the table in bottles, not glasses, to save time. This group talked for 45 minutes or so while the waiters stood by and waited patiently for the party to finally be over. And then Hefner and Barbi came back into the room.

Didn't you already leave? somebody said.

"We took off, but then we thought we'd come back and see if there was still anything happening," Hefner said.

In reading "The Great Gatsby," I've sometimes had the notion that one of those great limousines that came out from the city, and paused in Gatsby's quiet driveway before driving away, was driven by Gatsby himself.

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100 Great Moments in the Movies

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Roger Ebert / April 23, 1995

For the centennial of cinema, 100 great moments from the movies:

Clark Gable in "Gone With the Wind":

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Buster Keaton standing perfectly still while the wall of a house falls over upon him; he is saved by being exactly placed for an open window.

Charlie Chaplin being recognized by the little blind girl in "City Lights."

The computer Hal 9000 reading lips, in "2001: a Space Odyssey."

The singing of "La Marseillaise" in "Casablanca."

Snow White kissing Dopey Bashful on the head.

John Wayne putting the reins in his mouth in "True Grit" and galloping across the mountain meadow, weapons in both hands.

Jimmy Stewart in "Vertigo," approaching Kim Novak across the room, realizing she embodies all of his obsessions - better than he knows.

The early film experiment proving that horses do sometimes have all four hoofs off the ground.

Gene Kelly singin' in the rain.

Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta discuss what they call Quarter Pounders in France, in "Pulp Fiction."

The Man in the Moon getting a cannon shell in his eye, in the Melies film "A Voyage to the Moon."

Pauline in peril, tied to the railroad tracks.

A boy running joyously to greet his returning father, in "Sounder."

Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock face in "Safety Last."

Orson Welles smiling enigmatically in the doorway in "The Third Man."

An angel looking down sadly over Berlin, in Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire."

The Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination: Over and over again, a moment frozen in time.

A homesick North African, sadly telling a hooker that what he really wants is not sex but couscous, in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Fear Eats the Soul: Ali."

Wile E. Coyote, suspended in air.

Zero Mostel throwing a cup of cold coffee at the hysterical Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks' "The Producers," and Wilder screaming: "I'm still hysterical! Plus, now I'm wet!"

An old man all alone in his home, faced with the death of his wife and the indifference of his children, in Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo Story."

"Smoking." Robert Mitchum's response, holding up his cigarette, when Kirk Douglas offers him a smoke in "Out of the Past."

Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg wading in the fountain in "La Dolce Vita."

The moment in Akira Kurosawa's "High and Low" when a millionaire discovers that it was not his son who was kidnapped, but his chauffeur's son - and then the eyes of the two fathers meet.

The distant sight of people appearing over the horizon at the end of "Schindler's List."

R2D2 and C3PO in "Star Wars."

E.T. and friend riding their bicycle across the face of the moon.

Marlon Brando's screaming "Stella!" in "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Hannibal Lecter smiling at Clarise in "The Silence of the Lambs."

"Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain't heard nothin' yet!" The first words heard in the first talkie, "The Jazz Singer," said by Al Jolson.

Jack Nicholson trying to order a chicken salad sandwich in "Five Easy Pieces."

"Nobody's perfect": Joe E. Brown's last line in "Some Like It Hot," explaining to Tony Curtis why he plans to marry Jack Lemmon even though he is a man.

"Rosebud."

The shooting party in Renoir's "Rules of the Game."

The haunted eyes of Antoine Doinel, Truffaut's autobiographical hero, in the freeze frame that ends "The 400 Blows."

Jean-Paul Belmondo flipping a cigarette into his mouth in Godard's "Breathless."

The casting of the great iron bell in Andrei Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev."

"What have you done to its eyes?" Dialogue by Mia Farrow in "Rosemary's Baby."

Moses parting the Red Sea in "The Ten Commandments."

An old man found dead in a child's swing, his mission completed, at the end of Kurosawa's "Ikiru."

The haunted eyes of the actress Maria Falconetti in Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc."

The children watching the train pass by in Ray's "Pather Panchali."

The baby carriage bouncing down the steps in Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin."

"Are you lookin' at me?" Robert De Niro in "Taxi Driver."

"My father made them an offer they couldn't refuse:" Al Pacino in "The Godfather."

The mysterious body in the photographs in Antonioni's "Blow-Up."

"One word, Benjamin: plastics." From "The Graduate."

A man dying in the desert in von Stroheim's "Greed."

Eva Marie Saint clinging to Cary Grant's hand on Mt. Rushmore in "North by Northwest."

Astaire and Rogers dancing.

"There ain't no sanity clause!" Chico to Groucho in "A Night at the Opera."

"They call me Mr. Tibbs." Sidney Poitier in Norman Jewison's "In the Heat of the Night."

The sadness of the separated lovers in Jean Vigo's "L'Atalante."

The vast expanse of desert, and then tiny figures appearing, in "Lawrence of Arabia."

Jack Nicholson on the back of the motorcycle, wearing a football helmet, in "Easy Rider."

The geometrical choreography of the Busby Berkeley girls.

The peacock spreading its tail feathers in the snow, in Fellini's "Amarcord."

Robert Mitchum in "Night of the Hunter," with "LOVE" tattooed on the knuckles of one hand, and "HATE" on the other.

Joan Baez singing "Joe Hill" in "Woodstock."

Robert De Niro's transformation from sleek boxer to paunchy nightclub owner in "Raging Bull."

Bette Davis: "Fasten your seat belts; it's gonna be a bumpy night!" in "All About Eve."

"That spider is as big as a Buick!" Woody Allen in "Annie Hall."

The chariot race in "Ben-Hur."

Barbara Harris singing "It Don't Worry Me" to calm a panicked crowd in Robert Altman's "Nashville."

The game of Russian roulette in "The Deer Hunter."

Chase scenes: "The French Connection," "Bullitt," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Diva."

The shadow of the bottle hidden in the light fixture, in "The Lost Weekend."

"I coulda been a contender." Brando in "On the Waterfront."

George C. Scott's speech about the enemy in "Patton:" "We're going to go through him like crap through a goose."

Rocky Balboa running up the steps and pumping his hand into the air, with all of Philadelphia at his feet.

Debra Winger saying goodbye to her children in "Terms of Endearment."

The montage of the kissing scenes in "Cinema Paradiso."

The dinner guests who find they somehow cannot leave, in Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel."

A knight plays chess with Death, in Bergman's "The Seventh Seal."

The savage zeal of the Klansmen in Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation."

The problem of the door that won't stay closed, in Jacques Tati's "Mr. Hulot's Holiday."

"I'm still big! It's the pictures that got small!" Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard."

"We're a long way from Kansas!" Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz."

An overhead shot beginning with an entrance hall, and ending with a closeup of a key in Ingrid Bergman's hand, in Hitchcock's "Notorious."

"There ain't much meat on her, but what's there is choice." Spencer Tracy about Katharine Hepburn in "Pat and Mike."

The day's outing of the mental patients in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

"I always look well when I'm near death." Greta Garbo to Robert Taylor in "Camille."

"It took more than one night to change my name to Shanghai Lily." Marlene Dietrich in "Shanghai Express."

"I'm walkin' here!" Dustin Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy."

W.C. Fields flinching as a prop man hurls handfuls of fake snow into his face in "The Fatal Glass of Beer."

"The next time you got nothin' to do, and lots of time to do it, come up and see me." Mae West in "My Little Chickadee."

"Top o' the world, Ma!" James Cagney in "White Heat."

Richard Burton exploding when Elizabeth Taylor reveals their "secret" in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Henry Fonda getting his hair cut in "My Darling Clementine."

"Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!" Alfonso Bedoya to Humphrey Bogart in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre."

"There's your dog. Your dog's dead. But there had to be something that made it move. Doesn't there?" Line from Errol Morris' "Gates of Heaven."

"Don't touch the suit!" Burt Lancaster in "Atlantic City."

Gena Rowlands arrives at John Cassavetes' house with a taxicab full of adopted animals, in "Love Streams."

"I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again. Please God, let me live again." Jimmy Stewart to the angel in "It's a Wonderful Life."

Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr embrace on the beach in "From Here to Eternity."

Mookie throws the trash can through the window of Sal's Pizzeria, in "Do the Right Thing."

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning," dialogue by Robert Duvall, in "Apocalypse Now."

"Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above." Katharine Hepburn to Humphrey Bogart in "The African Queen."

"Mother of mercy. Is this the end of Rico?" Edward G. Robinson in "Little Caesar."

☑ Click to expand. Comments are open.

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#22 August 4, 2010

Michigan postcard from the Grand Poobah: Entrenched here in the Michigan woods, I forge ahead on my memoirs. Occasionally I lift my eyes to watch raindrops falling on leaves. Every evening I put on a DVD. Tonight's showing: Antonioni's "Eclipse."

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Coming to a bad end

View image The "Searchers" shot from the ending of "War of the Worlds." Way more sentimental than John Ford's.

Can a lousy ending really ruin an otherwise good movie? There was a time in Hollywood history when phony "happy endings" were de rigueur. Even if they felt tacked on, audiences understood that they were a convention -- and, in many cases, knew not to take them seriously. So, for example, at the end of Nicholas Ray's "Bigger Than Life" -- a terrifying film about a father (James Mason) who goes berzerk with rage and disgust over his suffocatingly "normal" middle-class family life and comes to believe that his young son should be slain -- the family is reunited around his hospital bed (oh, it was just too much cortisone!)... while a flashing light blinks ominously, as if telling the audience not to buy the false conclusion.

View image "The Magnificent Ambersons": This is the happy ending?

Some have argued that the hollow ending shot by Robert Wise for Orson Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons" ruins the movie. I don't think so. It compromises the film somewhat (and I learned from the Criterion laserdisc how it was supposed to have ended in utter desolation), but those last few moments don't negate all the true magnificence that has come before, do they? Watch the last shot: As Eugene (Joseph Cotten) narrates a happy ending that has taken place off-screen, he's walking down the hospital hallway with Fanny (Agnes Moorehead, in maybe the greatest performance ever given by anyone in American movies), they each pass in and out of shadow at different times. He's telling one story, but we're hearing it through her. He's talking about his love for her sister (the love she and her nephew Georgie have sabotaged), and we know Fanny's always secretly loved Eugene. At the end of the shot, they are no longer even in the same frame. She moves into close-up, the camera pans over to him, then they both briefly enter the frame and pass by the camera into darkness. The whole image goes out of focus briefly as they disappear, and we're left looking down an empty, sterile hallway with a red cross lamp at center right. If you're paying any attention to the shot at all, it's still not much of a happy ending! It's an epilogue, an afterthought.

Likewise, the head-spinning ending of Fritz Lang's classic "Woman in the Window" strikes some as contrived, but to me it feels inevitable. In the tradition of noir, a man (Edward G. Robinson) makes one small mistake, one impulsive deviation from his normal path, that leads inexorably to ruin. The movie takes you, step by step, down his road to ruin, until there's No Way Out. Only then does Lang pull the rug out from under you. What's important is the experience you've been through, not where the movie chooses to stop.

Lesser movies, like "Fatal Attraction," can be more seriously damaged by studio-imposed endings. The movie is pretty good at balancing your sympathies up until its grotesquely overblown "the family that slays together stays together" slasher finale. You can feel that this wasn't the way things were meant to go, and the DVD version now contains the original ending that didn't test well with preview audiences, in which Glenn Close's character committed suicide and Michael Douglas was arrested for her murder. It was more of a true film noir ending -- even though there was still a deus ex machina twist when a taped suicide note is discovered.

More recently, Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" concluded with such a ridiculously upbeat happy-family ending (never mind that the world was pretty much destroyed) that it prompted hails of derisive laughter. (On the other hand, would it have been the mainstream blockbuster it was if it had ended in defeat and despair?) The movie sucked me in so deeply, that even when I started backing out of it (right about when things just miraculously -- and arbitrarily -- started turning around, about ten minutes from the end), I still believed the first 106 minutes of the movie, even if I rejected the last ten.

I had a similar problem with the ending of "Children of Men," which (although still ambiguous and in no way assuring the survival of all of mankind) I thought was too sappy and sentimental. The sound of laughing and playing children over the final fade out nearly ruined the whole thing for me, because it was a film of such drive and momentum that I felt it really needed to go somewhere. And it didn't. It tried to have it both ways -- leaving some things unresolved while still leaving the audience with a feeling of optimism -- and I didn't think it worked. (Look for the "Bigger Than Life" blinking beacon in the final shots.) But, again, it didn't make me feel that the entire experience had been negated.

Off-hand, I can think of one movie with an ending so horribly manipulated that it really did destroy everything that came before, and that's Roger Donaldson's "No Way Out" (1987), with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman. This was a case where I remember feeling that the final "twist" actually did make mincemeat out of the whole picture. When the final piece of information drops into place, nothing that had happened previously made any sense.

What are movies that have been ruined -- or nearly ruined-- for you by bad endings? What about movies with bad endings that you were willing to overlook because the rest of the movie was so good?

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Is Oscar's best pic a masterpiece?

May Contain Spoilers
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For more information on the controversies over "Million Dollar Baby," please see the related articles section in the left column. We also recommend Jeff Shannon's pieces for New Mobility Magazine:

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AFI list is full of talent but empty of meaning

As part of its ongoing national effort to lead the nation to discover and rediscover the classics, the American Film Institute (AFI) today announced the 50 greatest American screen legends - the top 25 women and top 25 men naming Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart the number one legends among the women and men.

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Cannes all winners

The Festival International du Film, held annually in Cannes, France, has become the world's most prestigious film festival—the spot on the beach where the newest films from the world's top directors compete for both publicity and awards.

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