Worthy free flicks starring (among others) Burt Lancaster, Carole Lombard, and Daniel Day-Lewis.
Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse (Photo: A24)
(Prime Cuts is a monthly column that suggests worthy movies presently available for Amazon Prime subscribers to watch for free.)
FROM NOON TILL THREE (1976). By 1976, Charles Bronson was a global superstar, and, on the home front, he was nearly as popular as Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. What’s interesting about From Noon Till Three, though, is how it’s markedly different from Death Wish, Breakout and the other ’70s films that made him a box office draw. Playing less like a Western and more like a spoof of a Western, it’s an utterly charming comedy about Graham Dorsey (Bronson), an outlaw who decides to quit the bank-robbing biz after he meets the prim and proper Amanda Starbuck (Jill Ireland). They spend three passionate hours together (from noon till three, for those wondering), but a case of mistaken identity leads Amanda to believe that Graham is dead — this in turn leads to much mythologizing (via book, song, and even guided tours) of their brief encounter, to the point where it overtakes Romeo and Juliet as the greatest of all tragic love stories. Bronson is hysterical in a rare comedic part — especially in the later scenes when he tries to convince everyone he’s Graham Dorsey (no one believes him, insisting Dorsey was taller and handsomer) — and the kicker of an ending is especially satisfying.
THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019). As film critics are busy compiling their 10 Best lists for 2020, here’s another look at one of the 10 best films of 2019 (go here for the complete Best & Worst). A shining beacon of originality, writer-director Robert Eggers’ black-and-white mood piece defies easy description. There’s possibly a touch of dementia in Willem Dafoe’s character of Thomas Wake, who has spent years taking care of a lighthouse off the coast of 19th century New England. Certainly, there’s a bit of Robert Shaw in his portrayal, as his constant barking and carousing stirs memories of Jaws’ garrulous Quint. Here, his tirades are directed at the new kid on the rock, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson). Theirs is a testy relationship, but that’s only a fraction of the story. Winslow sees mermaids and tentacles when hallucinating (or is he?), while Wake is definitely up to something when he strips off his clothes and barricades himself at the top of the lighthouse. There’s also a scene that recalls Robert Aldrich’s classic noir nastiness Kiss Me Deadly, as well as a one-eyed seagull that could easily have joined the ranks of Hitchcock’s birds. Elliptical yet engrossing, The Lighthouse suggests early David Lynch by way of Greek mythology and literary horror.
MURDERBALL (2005). A Sundance favorite and Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature, Murderball is a movie that’s easier to admire than adore, and its makers wouldn’t have it any other way. Though its focus is quadriplegic men who play wheelchair rugby, it refuses to traffic in easy pathos and cheap sentiment. Its emotional moments are earned the hard way — that is to say, honestly. Clearly, Murderball doesn’t want us to feel uplifted by the everyday struggles of these men; instead, it neatly averts the audience condescension that’s invariably generated by documentaries of this ilk by forcing audiences to view its characters as equals, as guys — sometimes likable, often not — who are macho jocks first and physically impaired men second. The movie loses steam whenever its attention turns to the on-the-court rivalry between the US and Canadian teams; far more compelling are the personal glimpses of people whose broken bodies are no match for their brawny spirits.
MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE (1986). The odious Margaret Thatcher and her crippling policies made sizable targets for many British filmmakers during the 1980s and beyond, and few hit the bulls-eye as squarely as screenwriter Hanif Kureishi and director Stephen Frears with their indie hit My Beautiful Laundrette. Yet Thatcherism is what’s simmering beneath the surface; at ground level, this tells the story of Omar (Gordon Warnecke), a Pakistani lad who, with the help of his capitalist uncle (Saeed Jaffrey), attempts to renovate a laundromat in an economically repressed community. To help him operate the business, Omar turns to his friend Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), a former skinhead who’s trying to become a better person, and they soon begin a clandestine romance. Kureishi’s Oscar-nominated script shrewdly dissects all manner of societal ills — classism, racism, and sexism among them — while Day-Lewis enjoyed a breakout year stateside thanks to his contrasting performances here and as a supercilious dandy in A Room with a View.
MY MAN GODFREY (1936). William Powell plays Godfrey, a “forgotten man” (i.e. homeless person) who’s snatched up from the ramshackle huts at the city dump by flighty socialite Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) and given a position as the butler for her wealthy family. Godfrey soon becomes acquainted with all the members of the household: gruff patriarch Alexander Bullock (Eugene Pallette), his nattering wife Angelica (Alice Brady), their casually cruel daughter (and Irene’s older sister) Cornelia (Gail Patrick), Angelica’s freeloading protégé Carlo (Mischa Auer), and the Bullocks’ sensible maid Molly (Jean Dixon). Naturally, Godfrey isn’t quite what he seems, and, just as naturally, he ends up teaching the Bullocks some valuable life lessons along the way. This scintillating comedy was the first film to be Oscar-nominated in all four acting categories, with Powell and Lombard in the leading slots and Brady and Auer in the supporting classifications — sadly missing out was Pallette, who’s an absolute riot as the comparatively most “normal” member of the Bullock family.
SCORPIO (1973). The strain of cynicism and paranoia that marked the majority of ’70s political thrillers — superb pictures like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor — can be found in the effectively dour Scorpio, which often feels like a Yankee version of the sort of espionage tales being churned out by the late John le Carré over in England. Burt Lancaster provides the proper measure of weary resignation to his turn as Cross, a longtime CIA agent who learns that his own agency has put out a hit on him — and that the person ordered to squeeze the trigger is his own protégée, a cool-as-ice Frenchman known as Scorpio (Alain Delon). The remainder is the usual mix of lengthy chases, clandestine meetings, and tantalizing double crosses, all smoothly pulled off by director Michael Winner (a year before helming his biggest hit, the Charles Bronson vigilante flick Death Wish) and writers David W. Rintels and Gerald Wilson. Paul Scofield turns up in a key supporting role as Zharkov, a Soviet agent and the closest thing Cross has to a true friend.