By Gerald Peary
Covid-19 goes on, and, in public, our masked lives. At home, we can relax, watching old movies. Here’s a 10th list of disparate favorites you can view on your computer.
Bird of Paradise (1932) — In King Vidor’s appealing island romance, Joel McCrea is handsome Johnny, an American sailor happy to be thrust onto a South Seas island with Dolores Del Rio’s wild-haired Luana. The hitch in their plans is that she’s the king’s daughter, who must be sacrificed to appease a moody volcano. Vidor actually filmed in Hawaii, a rare location jaunt in those studio days, though the swaying-native scenes, choreographed (uncredited) by Busby Berkeley, were shot on a Hollywood set. $1.99 Link
Mandingo (1975) — A guilty pleasure is this flamboyant melodrama of slaves and slavers in the 1840s South. The father-and-son plantation owners of Falconhurst (James Mason, Perry King) are crude, mean, tobacco-road trash. Then there’s Falconhurst’s hot-to-trot belle, Blanche (Susan George). After bedding her brother, she goes after the plantation’s most buff black man, the “Mandingo,” Mede (once-heavyweight champ, Ken Norton). This is the movie where James Mason’s “massah” plants his bare tootsies on the back of a little slave boy. Watch at your own risk this most glaringly anti-PC of films. $2.99 rental. Link
Mala Noche (1985) — Shot in black-and-white and 16mm on a $25,000 budget, Gus Van Sant’s first feature is a raw and libidinous tale of homosexual desire. Inspired a bit by both John Cassavetes and Midnight Cowboy, the story revolves around Walt, a 20ish gay slacker beatnik obsessively hitting on Hispanic teenage boys. The charm of Male Noche is its scruffy, subterranean Portland, OR, ambience, with walk-ons by real-life local poets and wino down-and-outs. You can well imagine an on-the-road visit from Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. $3.99 rental. Link
White White Storks (1966) –The first feature of Uzbekistan’s most important filmmaker, Ali Khamraev, shows the world a formidable talent. It’s set in a sequestered Muslim village in the mountains where the old ways, not Soviet Communist ones, still reign. The heroine is a smart woman in an unhappy marriage to a stubborn traditionalist. She falls for a sensitive, soft-spoken guy who has a mission of defending local women when their men abuse them. But there’s no divorce in such a town — blood revenge still reigns instead of enlightened Marxism. The demonstrative camera style here is traditionally Russian: lyrical, emotional, melodramatic, in tune with a tale of longing and heartbreak. Link
A Handful of Dust (1988) — A tough-minded adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s nervy 1934 novel of manners. The placid matrimony of Tony Last and Lady Brenda is sabotaged when Brenda asks for A Flat of One’s Own, allowing her a shack-up with John Beaver. Though bland, penniless, and unlovable, Beaver also happens to be — in Waugh’s deft thumbnail phrase — “London’s only spare man.” Poor cuckolded Tony. His snug life is upended and uprooted, as he’s catapulted to Waugh’s shivery, macabre denouement in the Amazon jungles. Director Charles Sturridge makes cinematic logic of Waugh’s jumps in tone, mood, and scenery, from a London boudoir and Brit black comedy to a future South American grave. Lavishly mounted and handsomely acted (Sir Alec Guinness is among the stellar cast), this is one truly “woke” British costume drama. Link
Gerald Peary is a Professor Emeritus at Suffolk University, Boston, curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and the general editor of the “Conversations with Filmmakers” series from the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenix, he is the author of nine books on cinema, writer-director of the documentaries For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism and Archie’s Betty, and a featured actor in the 2013 independent narrative Computer Chess. His new feature documentary, The Rabbi Goes West, co-directed by Amy Geller, is playing at film festivals around the world.