Worthy free flicks starring (among others) George Clooney, Natalie Wood, and Orson Welles.
Orson Welles in The Stranger (Photo: RKO)
(Prime Cuts is a regular column that suggests worthy movies presently available for Amazon Prime subscribers to watch for free.)
GORKY PARK (1983). Martin Cruz Smith’s smash bestseller gets turned into a satisfying movie featuring a stellar cast and a script by The Singing Detective scribe Dennis Potter. William Hurt plays Arkady Renko, a diligent Moscow detective determined to find out who’s responsible for the three unidentifiable corpses found in the city’s Gorky Park. The Cold War intrigue works better than the murder-mystery angle, which isn’t too difficult to figure out. Lee Marvin and Brian Dennehy co-star as Americans who may or may not be involved with the slayings, and that’s the Star Wars franchise’s Emperor/Chancellor Palpatine, Ian McDiarmid, as the university professor who helps Renko identify the bodies through unique means.
INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003). In this vastly underrated Coen Brothers confection, George Clooney exhibits the right degree of screwball aptitude as Miles Massey, a hotshot divorce lawyer who may have finally met his match in the gold-digging Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones). When he’s not busy playing heroes, Clooney comes across as the class clown trapped in the class president’s body, and his zest in mocking his own leading man status works to glorious advantage here. Yet he and Zeta-Jones aren’t the whole show, not when they’re backed by the usual assortment of Coen-kooks (you just know that a character named “Wheezy Joe” will be good for some laughs) as well as a screenplay that ably captures the long-established rhythms of the screwball form.
KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952). Here’s a down and dirty film noir with all the requisite blood, sweat and double-crosses. John Payne headlines as an ex-con who’s set up by a crooked ex-cop (Preston Foster) to take the rap for a bank heist in the title city. The corrupt lawman and his three henchmen — a marvelous rogues’ gallery comprised of Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef and Neville Brand — hightail it to Mexico, but their perceived patsy isn’t about to let them get away with it. Payne makes for a suitably off-kilter hero while Foster is solid in an unexpectedly complex role, although the biggest thrill is watching Elam as the most nervous of the hoods — if actors were paid by the amount of perspiration they displayed, Elam could have retired right after shooting this flick.
KINGS GO FORTH (1958). Kings Go Forth was released in the same year as another Frank Sinatra flick, Some Came Running, and while it may have been overshadowed by that superb melodrama (do catch it, especially for Shirley MacLaine’s heartbreaking turn), it’s a solid picture in its own right. Sinatra and Tony Curtis star as two G.I.s serving in France during World War II — when they’re not busy fighting Germans, they’re both wooing the same woman (Natalie Wood), an American-born, French-raised beauty whose late father, as it turns out, was black. The wartime material is fairly standard (if well-executed), but the simmering theme of racism is honestly handled, and Sinatra is excellent (and entirely sympathetic) as a self-effacing sort who knows he can’t compete with his less honorable friend’s looks and charm.
STARMAN (1984). The E.T. in Starman doesn’t need to phone home since he thoughtfully planned ahead for his fellow aliens to pick him up at a predetermined location. Until then, he takes the human form of a deceased guy (Jeff Bridges) whose widow (Karen Allen) is understandably rattled by the sorta-reappearance of her husband; he also stays a step ahead of a nasty military man (Richard Jaeckel) and even brings a dead deer back to life. One of the few titles in the John Carpenter filmography that’s lacking any of his signature touches, this gentle fantasy-cum-love story offers little that’s fresh but skates by on the strength of the delicate turns by Allen and especially Bridges (the latter earning a Best Actor Oscar nomination). A TV spin-off appeared in 1986, starring Airplane!’s Robert Hays in the Bridges role; it lasted one season.
THE STRANGER (1946). Orson Welles serves as director on The Stranger, although in almost every regard, it’s the least flamboyant picture in his oeuvre (and his least favorite of his own works). That’s not a debit, though, since this movie is propelled by its intriguing, Oscar-nominated story about a War Crimes Commission agent (Edward G. Robinson) in hot pursuit of a Nazi war criminal who’s successfully managed to conceal his identity. The sleuth’s investigation takes him to a small New England town — could the Nazi be hiding out as the burg’s schoolteacher (Welles), a respected man who’s about to marry a prominent judge’s daughter (Loretta Young)? Reportedly the only Welles picture to turn a profit(!), this contains a typically reliable performance from the great Robinson as well as some impressive shots courtesy of Welles and crack cinematographer Russell Metty (an Oscar winner for Spartacus but most revered for his lensing on Welles’ Touch of Evil).