54. “Daisy Kenyon”, Otto Preminger (1947)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list

Daisy Kenyon.jpg

 

Daisy Kenyon

dir. Otto Preminger scr. David Hertz, based on the novel by Elizabeth Janeway cin. Leon Shamroy with Joan Crawford, Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews

In 100 words: In Daisy Kenyon, Preminger created an interesting marriage of naturalism and artifice; a melodrama built like a noir with all that word implies: the expressionistic lighting, deft camerawork and subtly gauzy images imply the characters’ internal state. At the same time, the love triangle feels surprisingly realistic, which counters whatever melodramatic impulses the story may have. Characters act impulsively, but they face their choices head-on, rather than suffering quietly. I cannot think of another movie where my allegiances shifted from one obvious choice to another and back, yet still feel like I’m not being duped. This one does that and more.

Other Movies for Context: This is often been referenced as a Joan Crawford-melodrama so I’ll start there: Mildred Pierce (1946) is obviously her crowning glory. Preminger made Laura (1944), a sensational and tightly constructed (less than 90 minutes!) film, also starring Andrews, but memorable for Clifton Webb’s kooky performance. The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) did less for me, even if I do like Frank Sinatra in it.

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57. “My Darling Clementine”, John Ford (1946)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

My Darling Clementine

My Darling Clementine

dir. John Ford scr. Samuel G. Engel and Winston Miller based on a story by Sam Hellman cin. Joseph MacDonald with Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Linda Darnell, Walter Brennan

In 100 words: When I think of westerns, I think of busy shoot-em-up movies with cowboys and some sort of black and white distillation of good versus evil, while talking about American exceptionalism. Ford, the best director of westerns, created his most unusually sweet and lackadaisical western here, in opposition to that standard. The film feels more like a hang-out movie: its focus is so much more on the life of its many characters and town activities, rather than the gathering storm that later erupts in a magnificent climax. Sterling images and edits, great use of sound, richly layered acting make this exceptional.

Other Movies for Context: Ford is one of the greatest and most important American directors. I wasn’t a big fan of westerns, and quite frankly, it’s not a genre I reach out to when I just want to watch a movie. But Ford’s are the standard for which every western films should be judged. His legendary The Searchers (1956) is often considered among the greatest movies ever, but it’s my least favorite of his. Stagecoach (1939) is my favorite apart from this one, while The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is pretty spectacular. Ford also has some of the most handsomely filmed images I’ve ever seen that chronicled the history of America: among them are The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was my Valley (1941), and the unusually romantic and lush The Quiet Man (1952).

63. “The Lady Eve”, Preston Sturges (1941)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

The Lady Eve

The Lady Eve

dir. Preston Sturges scr. Preston Sturges cin. Victor Milner with Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, and William Demarest

In 100 words: Among all the movies I have seen, nothing is as sexy as watching Barbara Stanwyck caressing Henry Fonda’s hair with her face smooshed against his. Sturges’ screwball comedy is an exemplar of the genre—a sparkling script full of brilliant and hilarious one-liners, a convoluted plot that never loses the threads of the story, impeccable edits, smart framing, and two movie stars giving the best performances of their careers. The movie is refreshingly frisky, sensual, smart, and ironic—the dapper Fonda constantly falling down is one example—that makes each scene magical. Romance has never felt this sweet, this hot.

Other Movies for Context: Oh my gosh, it’s just too good to be true. The Lady Eve is the only film I’ve seen from Preston Sturges, and I aim to correct that soon. If this is Barbra Stanwyck’s best performance, her work in Double Indemnity in 1945 laid out the framework for the dangerous icy blondes of noir, and is as dangerously sexy as her character here.