Pre-Code Hollywood #4 – Night Nurse (1931)

Night_Nurse_1931_PosterNight Nurse (1931)
Directed by: William A. Wellman
Written by: Oliver H.P. Garrett, Charles Kenyon (based on Night Nurse by Dora Macy)
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, Joan Blondell, Clark Gable

Academy Award-winning director William A. Wellman’s film Night Nurse served as one of the first platforms where legendary actress Barbara Stanwyck could show her talents as a leading lady. Stanwyck had the sensibilities of a modern woman and a physical acting method that put her leagues above the competition – her acting prowess would lead her to being nominated for Best Actress four times between 1938-1949 for classic films like Stella Dallas, Double Indemnity, and Ball of Fire. Night Nurse gave talented director William A. Wellman and star Stanwyck the boundary-pushing material needed to create something truly unique and ultimately memorable.

Night Nurse follows nurse trainee Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) as she begins her career in a new hospital. Her roommate Miss Maloney (Joan Blondell) quickly becomes her best friend, and Lora begins to make the best out of her new place of employment. She is assigned to the night shift in the emergency room, where she meets a bootlegger named Mortie (Ben Lyon) after he is shot. After passing her training, Lora moves on to private nursing, where she looks after two young sick children called Desney and Nanny Ritchie. Their mother (Charlotte Merriam) is a drunk socialite who is infatuated with her chauffeur Nick (Clark Gable). Lora soon comes to find out that young Desney and Nanny are being starved to death by Nick, in a plot to marry their mother and subsequently inherit their trust fund. It is Lora’s sworn duty to interfere in the plot, but everything seems to be working against her. Night Nurse was notable at the time of its release for its risque nature, and later became known as an important launching pad in the careers of Barbara Stanwyck, Clark Gable, Joan Blondell, and Ben Lyon.
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From the very beginning of Night Nurse, I knew I was in for something completely different both stylistically and tonally. The first shot of the film follows an ambulance in first person as it speeds through the streets and into the hospital loading zone – it is a simple but thrilling moment that sets the tone for the film to follow. The hospital setting is full of oddball characters who make the setting feel vibrant and alive. Barbara Stanwyck’s Lora Hart is kind-natured, independent, and witty – watching her acclimate to her new hospital atmosphere is the highlight of the film’s first half. Her chemistry with Joan Blondell’s Maloney is undeniable in their comic timing, and I found myself wanting more interactions between the two. Lora and Maloney are two of the most fiercely independent characters in Night Nurse, a feat that is all too rare for the early 1930’s. Both women know what they want out of life and will stop at nothing to get it, with neither letting much of anything shake them. They verbally spar with their coworkers and the people surrounding them, showing that they’re not going to be toyed with. Night Nurse is a perfectly paced film with a runtime of just 71 minutes, making the best out of every single minute. The film’s tone takes a dramatic turn once Lora Hart has passed her training program and begins to look after the sick Ritchie children. Here we immediately hear a grizzly tale of how Nanny and Desney’s sister met her demise, meet the drunken Mrs. Ritchie, and watch as Lora is assaulted and very nearly raped by a drunk house guest. Movie legend Clark Gable plays the film’s antagonist Nick, who immediately makes his brutish presence felt by knocking out Lora’s would-be rapist, and forcing Lora to pump Mrs. Ritchie’s stomach. Gable is intimidating and quite frankly horrifying as Nick, a man with no moral code to speak of.

Some of the most memorable aspects of Night Nurse come in the form of its pre-Hays Code content, which there’s an awful lot of. We see Barbara Stanwyck’s Lora Hart and Joan Blondell’s Maloney undressing several times, the film deals with the attempted murder of young children, and multiple characters make reference to swear words – Lora at one point looks to a passed out Mrs. Ritchie and utters “you mother-”. The film’s ending is another example of pushing boundaries in the pre-code era, where two main characters laugh at the strongly hinted death of a third major character. The true brilliance of Night Nurse’s screenplay (written by Oliver H.P. Garrett and Charles Kenyon) is the way it turns several character archetypes on their heads. Ben Lyon’s criminal bootlegger character Mortie becomes one of the crucial heroes of the film, while Clark Gable’s handsome and charming chauffeur Nick is a sadistic child murderer. Night Nurse takes already familiar movie tropes and turns them into something wholly unique – it’s a film that constantly challenges you while also being highly entertaining and groundbreaking in many ways.
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While it may be something of a B-movie at its heart, William A. Wellman’s Night Nurse is the most fun I’ve had with a new film in quite some time. It’s boundary-pushing content is a joy to watch unfold, and it features an incredibly talented young cast. Barbara Stanwyck’s strong and independent Lora Hart is an incredibly memorable pre-code character, as is Clark Gable’s vicious antagonist Nick. The film features a strong supporting cast and lively environments that feel exaggerated in the best way. When Night Nurse reaches its conclusion after just 70 minutes, I was very much blown away by what I had just seen. It may not be the type of film that will change your life, but it’s one I feel should be given more attention today. William A. Wellman’s Night Nurse is funny, charming, thrilling, and highly recommended.

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Pre-Code Hollywood #3 – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

JekyllHyde1931Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Directed by: Rouben Mamoulian
Written by: Samuel Hoffenstein, Percy Heath (based on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson)
Starring: Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart, Edgar Norton

The first film of our latest marathon to feature elements of horror and suspense, Rouben Mamoulian’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s story holds its own against its contemporary Universal monster movies that were scaring audiences globally. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a tremendous critical and financial success at the time of its release, earning an Academy Award for star Fredric March, along with several other nominations. Its pre-code roots are clear from the very outset of the film, where we see more early examples of open human sexuality, malicious stalking, and later on the eventual killing of human beings for pleasure.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde follows the titular Dr. Henry Jekyll (Fredric March), a kind and brilliant young doctor who is in the very upper echelon of his field. He intends to marry Muriel (Rose Hobart), the daughter of Brigadier General Sir Danvers Carrew (Halliwell Hobbes), who does not care much for Jekyll. While Muriel and her father are away, Jekyll develops a drug that supposedly releases the more “sinister” side of human beings. The groundbreaking new drug brings out the worst in Dr. Jekyll, transforming him into the evil Mr. Edward Hyde. The violent Mr. Hyde begins stalking Ivy Pierson (Miriam Hopkins), a young patient of Hyde’s. After the eventual murder of Ivy, Dr. Jekyll knows that he can no longer control the transformations, and tries desperately to push Muriel out of his life before she too is hurt by Hyde. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a suspenseful, atmospheric, and intelligent horror film that rivals most of its contemporaries. Actor Fredric March took home a much deserved Academy Award for Best Actor for his dual-personality performance, with the film also nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Adapted Writing.
6 - Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Horror films of the 1930’s are most famous for their thick Gothic atmosphere, with many of the most successful examples being based on novels written in the 1800’s. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is no different than many of its contemporaries in this respect, but seems to pull less punches than those other films. We see the sinister Mr. Hyde essentially sexually assaulting a young woman, as well as stalking and eventually murdering her to satisfy his own blood lust. These elements of brutality don’t seem to be found in other horror films of the era. Classics like Dracula, The Wolf Man, and Frankenstein are more famous for the sheer power of their suggestive content, whereas Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is far more upfront when it comes to showing its horrific content. The transformation from Dr. Henry Jekyll to Mr. Edward Hyde is effective and frightening, thanks in part to Fredric March’s incredible performance and the terrific make-up effects by Wally Westmore. The camera focuses on March’s face for nearly thirty seconds during the initial transformation scene, which employs some truly impressive special effects and gives the audience a frightening sneak peek of the primitive-looking Mr. Hyde. Director Rouben Mamoulian expertly uses first person camera techniques to further the film’s suspense, which may be one of the first instances of the technique I’ve seen in a horror film. Mamoulian’s camera follows Hyde through all of his hideous acts, which increases the film’s sense of immersion and implicates the audience as helpless accessories to his crimes. Besides the horrific content found within Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, my favorite example of its pre-code nature is an early scene where Dr. Jekyll first meets Ivy Pierson – she has been hurt in what appears to be a mugging, and Dr. Jekyll carries her up to her room in order to treat her wounds. In a shocking turn of events, Pierson admits she was exaggerating in order to get Dr. Jekyll alone with her, and seduces the young doctor. Miriam Hopkins’ mostly naked figure and dangling leg have become iconic images, and for good reason. The scene perfectly captures a palpable sexual tension and the sexual desires of a young woman, both of which would be prohibited by the proposed Hays Code. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde gets away with a great deal in terms of violent and sexual content, largely thanks to the skills of its director and cast, and its famous source material. It’s a landmark moment for the horror genre, and a highlight of the pre-code era as a whole. Unfortunately for the film, it suffers from some of the same pacing issues that affect many of its contemporaries. The buildup to Mr. Hyde’s violent outbursts is longer than I expected, and the film’s ending comes all too suddenly.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde boasts several terrific performances in Fredric March’s award-winning take on Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde, who is simultaneously brilliant and charming, and depraved and hideous, Miriam Hopkins’ independent and provocative Ivy Pierson, and Rose Hobart’s sweet Muriel Carrew. Director Rouben Mamoulian employs groundbreaking first-person camera techniques to terrify and titillate his audience, and make-up artist Wally Westmore creates a believably hideous Mr. Hyde. While it suffers from some of the same pacing issues that plague early horror films, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a tremendous example of the power that early horror films hold even today. Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is highly recommended.

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Pre-Code Hollywood #2 – The Divorcee (1930)

The_Divorcee_posterThe Divorcee (1930)
Directed by: Robert Z. Leonard
Written by: Nick Grinde, Zelda Sears, John Meehan (based on Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrott)
Starring: Norma Shearer, Chester Morris, Conrad Nagel, Florence Eldridge, Robert Montgomery

Robert Z. Leonard’s film The Divorcee begins on a far more exciting note than 1929’s In Old Arizona (the first film in our marathon), setting a brisk pace and a progressive attitude that never lets up over its 80 minute run-time. The Best Picture nominee was developed primarily as a vehicle for Hollywood superstar Norma Shearer, who picked up an Oscar for Best Actress for playing Jerry, the film’s titular divorcee. The Divorcee opens with a party where love and passion is in the air and jealousies are running high, when suddenly that all comes to a halt with the jarring sounds of a car accident. From there, The Divorcee establishes its consistent tone and rather progressive attitude, imagining women as social and sexual equals to their male counterparts.

The Divorcee follows Jerry (Norma Shearer) and Ted (Chester Morris), a couple who have been married for three years. When Jerry discovers that Ted has been cheating on her, she decides to get even with her husband and sleeps with Ted’s good friend Don (Robert Montgomery). When Ted returns from a business trip, Jerry informs him that she’s “settled their accounts”, and an enraged Ted demands a divorce. From there, The Divorcee turns into a picture chock full of adultery and open sexuality, apparent alcoholism, and melodrama of the highest sort.
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Melodrama has always been a major point of interest for me – there’s just something so inherently fascinating about watching the heightened romantic lives of exaggerated on-screen characters. The Divorcee is no different than many of the melodramas I’ve enjoyed in the past – its passions are exaggerated, the situations unlikely, and the consequences non-existent, which is probably what ultimately contributed to my overall enjoyment of it. Norma Shearer’s Oscar-winning turn as Jerry is terrific, showing off strength, wit, and independence in every scene of the film – even if some of her actions were questionable. The character of Jerry seems incredibly forward-thinking for 1930, long before the era of screwball comedies where women were believably verbally sparring with men. Her character feels like a living, breathing human being who has believable faults and lovable charms about her, something that the previous film in our marathon was sorely missing. The Divorcee intelligently tackles themes of adultery and human sexuality with a deft – if sometimes clumsy – hand, showing off a great deal of pre-code Hollywood goodness. On top of themes of sexuality and the sanctity of marriage is the rampant use of alcohol – which seems to appear in every major scene in the film. The film’s early accident scene is probably one of the first instances of drunk-driving on the big screen, another instance of progression in this exciting pre-code era. The script by Nick Ginde, Zelda Sears and John Meehan (based loosely on Ursula Parrott’s story Ex-Wife) asks the audience bold questions about infidelity, and paints a brief picture of a strong, modern woman getting even with the man who betrayed her. One of my major problems with The Divorcee is a side story involving Paul (Conrad Nagel) and Dorothy (Florence Eldridge), which only served to add to the film’s melodramatic nature and add some minutes to its runtime. While the side story in general is interesting, it just doesn’t feel natural to include it in what is already a fairly compelling and dramatic story of love gone bad. The film’s ending is another weak point, as it goes against the overall tone and message that I felt the writers and director were trying to portray. The whole experience just feels rather counterproductive in its last ten minutes, which is a damn shame.

The Divorcee is a strong, dramatic film from director Robert Z. Leonard. Its themes of sexuality, infidelity, and divorce were groundbreaking at the time, and hold up rather well all things considered. It’s a film that simply could not have been made in a post-Hays Code era, at least not on this scale. Norma Shearer’s Oscar-winning turn as Jerry is very strong, realistically portraying a strong, independent, free-thinking female protagonist. Overall, Leonard’s film is a mostly strong take on an all-too taboo subject – divorce. It falls apart slightly in its final minutes, and features some unnecessary plot elements, but the positives outweigh the negatives here. The Divorcee is worth seeing for its forward-thinking screenplay, its charming melodramatic nature, and for Shearer’s performance alone. It’s recommended.

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Pre-Code Hollywood #1 – In Old Arizona (1929)

InoldarizonaIn Old Arizona (1929)
Directed by: Irving Cummings, Raoul Walsh
Written by: Tom Barry
Starring: Warner Baxter, Edmund Lowe, Dorothy Burgess

In Old Arizona was the very first western film to feature full sound, helped establish a long-lasting trope in the “singing cowboy”, and was one of the earliest movies to be nominated for the now prestigious Best Picture prize at the annual Academy Awards. With all those credits under its belt, it’s important to note that In Old Arizona is not in any way a good film. In all honesty, it might be the worst we’ve taken a look at since the blog’s inception – but that’s always part of the fun when venturing into completely unknown territory. While it certainly isn’t a perfect film, there’s no denying the film’s groundbreaking nature and its influence on one of my favorite genre – for those things alone, it’s worthy of discussion.

In Old Arizona tells the story of a charming and eccentric, but feared, cowboy named the Cisco Kid (Warner Baxter) as he tangles with a local cavalry sergeant named Mickey Dunn (Edmund Lowe) who wants his blood. The Cisco Kid is so revered by the locals that he can rob a wagon without so much as a single gunshot – these feats do nothing but further the legend of the Cisco Kid, and enrage Sgt. Mickey Dunn. Luckily for the sergeant, he finds alliances in unexpected places and is able to convince The Cisco Kid’s love interest Tonia (Dorothy Burgess) to help him capture the cowboy. Even with an unexpected betrayal working against him, the Cisco Kid is able to match the sergeant’s efforts with sheer wit and quick thinking. Warner Baxter won an Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of the Cisco Kid, and In Old Arizona was nominated for a further four awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Cinematography.
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Being nearly ninety years old, it’s no wonder that In Old Arizona feels dated in its filmmaking techniques, plot structure, and performances. If it weren’t for the countless incredible films that came before it, I’d simply chock up the movie’s faults as failure to withstand the test of time and nothing else. Truthfully, there’s not much about In Old Arizona that works all these years later – the acting is awful, especially the overacted and phony performance of Dorothy Burgess, the writing feels overly simplified and far too convenient, and the film’s structure simply doesn’t warrant a full ninety minute runtime. If any project could benefit from being a short film, it’s In Old Arizona – doing away with the drawn out middle act that leads to the unsurprising betrayal of the Cisco Kid by his girl would make this a far more memorable film. Warner Baxter’s “singing cowboy” is easily the most notable thing about the film, and even Baxter’s performance feels exaggerated and far too comedic for a character who is supposedly so revered by the people around him. Edmund Lowe’s Sgt. Mickey Dunn has screen presence and is probably the best actor in the film, but that’s not saying much considering the two actors he shares the screen with. I appreciated some of the more boundary pushing elements of the film, in particular making Dorothy Burgess’ Tonia something of a seductress, using her sexuality to her advantage on multiple occasions. There are a few notable scenes alluding to sex, some gun violence, and a rather humorous use of the word “jackass”, but overall In Old Arizona’s pre-code influence feels rather mild. The most impressive part of In Old Arizona is in its use of sound, which feels much more natural than some of its contemporaries. The sparing use of score is effective in setting a tone and atmosphere, and the use of outdoor sets makes In Old Arizona feel like a full-blown western. The directors behind the camera deserved far greater than the script and cast of actors they were given, because it’s immediately clear that there is passion and inventiveness behind the film’s flaws.

While I can’t claim to have hated the entirety of my time with Irving Cummings and Raoul Walsh’s film In Old Arizona, it certainly won’t go down as one of the best movie experiences I’ll ever have. The exaggerated performances don’t lend themselves to the subject matter found in the film, instead making this something of an annoying experience. The screenplay is clearly stretching the limits of the story at hand, making what should a forty-five minute short in a full-blown feature length disaster. Both Irving Cummings and Raoul Walsh would go on to have prolific careers in Hollywood, making films that are probably far more memorable than any one scene in their 1929 Best Picture nominee. In Old Arizona is sadly not recommended, no matter how curious you are about the history of film and its pre-code era.

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Pre-Code Hollywood – An Introduction

GirlMissing00011On July 1st, 1934, the Motion Picture Production Code (commonly referred to as the Hays Code) was officially implemented after four years of development. The Code set a list of precedents that all mainstream Hollywood sound films had to adhere to, focusing largely on censoring profanity, sexuality, organized crime and violence, and religious criticism. The Hays Code was made up of two sections – “Don’ts”, which outlined things that were strictly prohibited by the code, and “Be Carefuls”, which were subject to scrutiny by the Production Code Administration (PCA). The two lists featured the following rules and restrictions:

Don’ts:

  • Pointed Profanity
  • Suggestive Nudity
  • Illegal Drug Trafficking
  • Sex Perversion
  • White Slavery
  • Interracial Relationships
  • Sex Hygiene
  • Scenes of Childbirth
  • Children’s Sex Organs
  • Ridicule of the Clergy
  • Offense to Any Nation, Race, or Creed

Be Careful’s:

  • Use of the Flag
  • International Relations
  • Arson
  • Firearms
  • Theft
  • Brutality/Gruesomeness
  • Murder
  • Smuggling
  • Torture
  • Executions
  • Sympathy for Criminals
  • Attitudes Towards Public Figures/Institutions
  • Sedition
  • Cruelty to Children/Animals
  • Branding of People/Animals
  • Sale of Women
  • Rape
  • Wedding Night Scenes
  • Men and Women Sharing a Bed
  • Deliberate Seduction of Women
  • Institution of Marriage
  • Surgery
  • Drug Use
  • Law Enforcement
  • Excessive/Lustful Kissing

As you can see, the Motion Picture Production Code set the groundwork for a great deal of censorship in American cinema. By limiting the content that writers and filmmakers were able to show on screen (or even allude to), the PCA was in turn stifling artistic freedom and creativity in general. Limiting the content allowed in Hollywood films would lead to Hollywood writers, directors, and actors coming up with more subtle, creative ways of getting past the Hays Code. In turn, it sparked a great deal of outrage in Hollywood upon its announcement in 1929, setting in motion a five-year period now known as Pre-Code Hollywood. This Pre-Code era saw the development of many boundary pushing films, featuring strong female protagonists, violent content focusing on gangsters and criminals, and sexual innuendo. The Hays Code was abandoned in the 1960’s when it became clear that studios were no longer willing to enforce the strict rules, and when American culture was in the midst of an undeniable revolution. The collapse of the Motion Picture Production Code would eventually lead to the creation of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), whose film rating system is still in use today.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Film Club will be taking a look at fifteen of the most famous Pre-Code Hollywood films, examining their boundary pushing nature and shedding light on an era of filmmaking that has been sadly forgotten to history. The Pre-Code Hollywood films that will be covered include:

  1. In Old Arizona (1929) (dir. Irving Cummings, Raoul Walsh)
  2. The Divorcee (1930) (dir. Robert Z. Leonard)
  3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) (dir. Rouben Mamoulian)
  4. Night Nurse (1931) (dir. William A. Wellman)
  5. The Public Enemy (1931) (dir. William A. Wellman)
  6. Blonde Venus (1932) (dir. Josef von Sternberg)
  7. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) (dir. Mervyn LeRoy)
  8. The Most Dangerous Game (1932) (dir. Irving Pichel, Ernest B. Schoedsack)
  9. Red-Headed Woman (1932) (dir. Jack Conway)
  10. Scarface (1932) (dir. Howard Hawks, Richard Rosson)
  11. The Sign of the Cross (1932) (dir. Cecil B. DeMille)
  12. Baby Face (1933) (dir. Alfred E. Green)
  13. The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) (dir. Frank Capra)
  14. Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) (dir. Mervyn LeRoy, Busby Berkeley)
  15. Of Human Bondage (1934) (dir. John Cromwell)

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Top 100 Films – Full List & Stats

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Top 100 Films – Full List

100. Rope (1948) (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
99. The Jerk (1979) (dir. Carl Reiner)
98. Office Space (1999) (dir. Mike Judge)
97. American Movie (1999) (dir. Chris Smith)
96. Touch of Evil (1958) (dir. Orson Welles)
95. Zero Dark Thirty (2012) (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
94. The Wrestler (2008) (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
93. The Virgin Spring (1960) (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
92. United 93 (2006) (dir. Paul Greengrass)
91. Brokeback Mountain (2003) (dir. Ang Lee)
90. Election (1999) (dir. Alexander Payne)
89. Close-Up (1990) (dir. Abbas Kiarostami)
88. Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) (dir. John Cassavetes)
87. Chungking Express (1994) (dir. Wong Kar-wai)
86. Stand By Me (1986) (dir. Rob Reiner)
85. Blazing Saddles (1974) (dir. Mel Brooks)
84. Metropolis (1927) (dir. Fritz Lang)
83. Boyz n the Hood (1991) (dir. John Singleton)
82. A Man Escaped (1956) (dir. Robert Bresson)
81. Manhattan (1979) (dir. Woody Allen)
80. Sunset Boulevard (1950) (dir. Billy Wilder)
79. All That Heaven Allows (1955) (dir. Douglas Sirk)
78. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) (dir. F.W. Murnau)
77. No Country for Old Men (2007) (dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
76. The King of Comedy (1982) (dir. Martin Scorsese)
75. Short Term 12 (2013) (dir. Destin Daniel Cretton)
74. The Fighter (2010) (dir. David O. Russell)
73. Ben-Hur (1956) (dir. William Wyler)
72. There Will Be Blood (2007) (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
71. Playtime (1967) (dir. Jacques Tati)
70. My Darling Clementine (1946) (dir. John Ford)
69. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) (dir. Andrew Dominik)
68. The Sting (1973) (dir. George Roy Hill)
67. Sherlock Jr. (1924) (dir. Buster Keaton)
66. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) (dir. Michel Gondry)
65. Kagemusha (1980) (dir. Akira Kurosawa)
64. Citizen Kane (1941) (dir. Orson Welles)
63. Raging Bull (1980) (dir. Martin Scorsese)
62. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) (dir. Sidney Lumet)
61. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) (dir. Wes Anderson)
60. Some Like it Hot (1959) (dir. Billy Wilder)
59. Pulp Fiction (1994) (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
58. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) (dir. Jacques Demy)
57. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) (dir. Frank Capra)
56. This is Spinal Tap (1984) (dir. Carl Reiner)
55. M (1931) (dir. Fritz Lang)
54. When We Were Kings (1996) (dir. Leon Gast)
53. The Gold Rush (1926) (dir. Charlie Chaplin)
52. Rosemary’s Baby (1968) (dir. Roman Polanski)
51. The Wages of Fear (1953) (dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot)
50. The Great White Silence (1924) (dir. Herbert Ponting)
49. Autumn Sonata (1978) (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
48. Withnail and I (1987) (dir. Bruce Robinson)
47. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) (dir. Wes Anderson)
46. Before Sunrise (1995) (dir. Richard Linklater)
45. True Romance (1993) (dir. Tony Scott)
44. Before Sunset (2004) (dir. Richard Linklater)
43. Inglourious Basterds (2009) (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
42. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007) (dir. Cristian Mungiu)
41. The African Queen (1951) (dir. John Huston)
40. A Matter of Life and Death (1946) (dir. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
39. Days of Heaven (1978) (dir. Terrence Malick)
38. Rushmore (1998) (dir. Wes Anderson)
37. What We Do in the Shadows (2014) (dir. Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi)
36. 12 Angry Men (1957) (dir. Sidney Lumet)
35. It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012) (dir. Don Hertzfeldt)
34. Casablanca (1942) (dir. Michael Curtiz)
33. Scenes from a Marriage (1973) (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
32. A Woman Under the Influence (1974) (dir. John Cassavetes)
31. Brief Encounter (1945) (dir. David Lean)
30. The Godfather Part II (1974) (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
29. Do the Right Thing (1989) (dir. Spike Lee)
28. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) (dir. Vincente Minnelli)
27. The Godfather (1972) (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
26. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) (dir. Stanley Donen)
25. Wild Strawberries (1957) (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
24. Seven Samurai (1954) (dir. Akira Kurosawa)
23. All That Jazz (1979) (dir. Bob Fosse)
22. Fargo (1996) (dir. Joel Coen)
21. Dersu Uzala (1975) (dir. Akira Kurosawa)
20. Grizzly Man (2005) (dir. Werner Herzog)
19. The Thing (1982) (dir. John Carpenter)
18. A Serious Man (2009) (dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
17. The Searchers (1956) (dir. John Ford)
16. Dazed and Confused (1993) (dir. Richard Linklater)
15. The Social Network (2010) (dir. David Fincher)
14. The Apartment (1960) (dir. Billy Wilder)
13. Rear Window (1954) (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
12. Winter Light (1963) (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
11. The Graduate (1967) (dir. Mike Nichols)
10. Harakiri (1962) (dir. Masaki Kobayashi)
9. The Night of the Hunter (1955) (dir. Charles Laughton)
8. Paris, Texas (1984) (dir. Wim Wenders)
7. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) (dir. Frank Capra)
6. Rocky (1976) (dir. John G. Avildsen)
5. Harold and Maude (1971) (dir. Hal Ashby)
4. The Exorcist (1973) (dir. William Friedkin)
3. Annie Hall (1977) (dir. Woody Allen)
2. City Lights (1931) (dir. Charlie Chaplin)
1. Punch-Drunk Love (2002) (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)


Top 100 Films – Statistics

Movies by Decade:
2010’s: 6
2000’s: 15
1990’s: 13
1980’s: 9
1970’s: 18
1960’s: 8
1950’s: 15
1940’s: 8
1930’s: 3
1920’s: 5

Best Year:
2007 – 4 (No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days)

Most Popular Actors/Directors/Writers:
Ingmar Bergman5
Diane Keaton – 4
Wes Anderson – 3
John Cassavetes – 3
Seymour Cassel – 3
John Cazale – 3
Joel & Ethan Coen – 3
Robert De Niro – 3
Akira Kurosawa – 3
Richard Linklater – 3
Bill Murray – 3
Al Pacino – 3
Brad Pitt – 3
Talia Shire – 3
James Stewart – 3
Max von Sydow – 3
Quentin Tarantino – 3
Billy Wilder – 3
Owen Wilson – 3


Counting down 100 films in just 50 days was one heck of an adventure, and something I was fully prepared to give up on halfway through. The list got me through some tough times recently, and provided a nice goal and distraction for me to build towards. I’ve never been more proud of myself as a writer, and seeing #1 finally pop into my feed has been the most rewarding experience yet here at Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Film Club! Thanks to everybody who joined me in the journey, liking, sharing, and commenting on posts, and to all those who read them in their spare time. Your support means the world to me, and I couldn’t have done it without you. Here’s to another great year of films and writing for everybody!

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Top 100 Films #1 – Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

 

punch-drunk-love2#1. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman

The moment of truth – my all-time favorite movie is one that I’ve seen dozens of times and a film I think back to almost every single day. Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2002 film Punch-Drunk Love is the most beautiful, unique, and challenging experience I’ve ever had with a movie. It explores themes of love, loneliness and isolation, and insecurity in a relatable and stylish way that resonates in ways that no other movie could ever accomplish. Punch-Drunk Love tells the story of toilet plunger distributor Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) as he struggles with his lonely, trapped, and insecure existence. He is alienated by his seven domineering sisters, and constantly made to reevaluate himself and his identity as a man. After an attempted extortion scheme from a phone sex operator, Barry meets a woman named Lena (Emily Watson) who is strangely attracted to him. On a whim, the neurotic and compulsive Barry surprises Lena in Hawaii, where the two hit it off and begin a romantic relationship. Unfortunately for the new couple, the phone sex operator’s extortion scheme leads to the couple being harassed, forcing Barry to fight for the woman he loves. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson brilliantly creates a palpable feeling of isolation and loneliness throughout Punch-Drunk Love, giving viewers a look inside the mind of Barry Egan. Barry is my all-time favorite movie character for a variety of reasons – his overly anxious, awkward, and nervous personality is something I’ve always been able to relate to, but also because it’s just plain funny to see his interactions with the world around him. He struggles to stay cool in social situations, and frequently has surprising and violent outbursts when he is left alone. Anderson’s writing of Barry Egan feels deeply personal and committed – he isn’t making fun of the awkward and lonely Barry, he’s empathizing with him and using the character to portray themes that are not often tackled in movies. Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction throughout Punch-Drunk Love is incredibly frantic and constantly on the move, but always feels small and relatively isolated which helps further the themes of entrapment. Anderson would win a well-deserved Best Director prize at the 2002 Cannes film festival for his work on Punch-Drunk Love. On top of incredible writing and directing from one of the world’s great contemporary filmmakers, the film features a truly terrific score from composer Jon Brion. Brion’s score is experimental and erratic, providing the perfect underlay for Barry’s many moments of nervousness, high anxiety, and misdirected anger. The use of the harmonium throughout is inspired and adds an extra layer of uniqueness to the score – the instrument is even reflected in the film’s plot. The film’s sound mixing plays a large part in the first half of Punch-Drunk Love, featuring constantly ringing phones, warehouse noises, and beautiful tone of the harmonium. Adam Sandler delivers a career-best performance as Barry Egan, being believably unpredictable and awkward at all times, but also surprisingly romantic and brave in his shining moments. Anderson’s brilliance as a director is reflected in Adam Sandler’s performance, as it’s clear that the actor was extra inspired in the performance. Emily Watson’s performance as Lena is equally as weird and compelling, even though she doesn’t have nearly as much screentime as Sandler. The two have more than enough chemistry to make the film’s central love story believable and adorable, and their interactions are some of the best moments in the film. I can’t possible state how big of an impact Punch-Drunk Love has had on my adult life – it provided me with a relatable, humorous, and beautiful story to escape in during some of my worst years. It’s a wonderful film that I can come back to again and again and still feel as moved as I was the first time – an unsung masterpiece whose brilliance can’t be understated. I’m proud to call Punch-Drunk Love my all-time favorite film, even if it’s a bond only I can understand – it’s a beautiful, incredibly well-crafted movie with themes that truly resonate with me.

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