241. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance [A-]
242. The Last Boy Scout [C-]
243. Background to Danger [C-]
244. Stagecoach [B-]
245. Blackmail (sound version) [C+]
246. The Serpent and the Rainbow [D+]
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: I tend to think that this is Ford's best western. It has all the pessimism that most of his earlier, much more earnest films lacked, generously avoids using racially caricatured Indians as the villains, and has great performances all around. Of course, Jimmy Stewart is 25-30 years too old for a young man just out of law school, but other than that, I can't think of a single thing I don't like about it.
The Last Boy Scout: Bruce Willis is pretty good in his role here, which elevates the movie from being a totally incoherent mess. Damon Wayans is awful in an action role, and the NFL prologue is stylistically excessive and ultimately incidental to the narrative (which is a pretty silly thing in itself). The best part is the end when the entire crowd cheers when Bruce Willis kills one of the villains, even though they should have no idea what is happening and be appalled at such a violent death. Totally ridiculous, but the action is decent and Willis manages to keep it from falling to pieces.
Background to Danger: George Raft proves once and for all that he would have been terrible in CASABLANCA in this wartime piece that is essentially a clone of that movie without any of the charm (Raft even wears what appears to be a copy of Bogie's costume for half the movie). Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet are in both films, but only manage to keep this turkey from sinking. In the end, Raft runs away with the girl, even though they don't know each other at all and her brother has just been murdered (and it is partially Raft's fault). Best of all, the editing is all over the place. This is probably a result of wartime restrictions on film stock, but it's interesting to see a Classical Hollywood film that ends up calling so much attention to the way it is edited.
Stagecoach: A fairly effective western that is well-shot and usually considered to be one of John Ford's best. Keeping the final shoot out mostly off-screen is a brilliant stroke, and the supporting cast is good, but I still find the war-whooping Indians to be pretty one-dimensional as villains and the calvary's final charge, no matter how well shot, to be a pretty laughable convention of the genre (even at this point). The romantic ending where John Wayne rides off to Mexico with a girl he barely knows is pretty silly, too, but an artifact of the period.
Blackmail (Sound Version): To my surprise, some things are better in this version of the Hitchcock film (the kitchen scene, where the dialogue is mumbled except for the word "knife" is better, and many of the dialogue exchanges early in the film are better spoken aloud than in the intertitles), but some are worse (especially the staging of the rape and the eventual killing). It's about on par with the silent version.
The Serpent and the Rainbow: Wes Craven's voodoo/zombie film is ridiculous from the word go, whether it be Bill Pullman's pointless, awfully-delivered voice-over narration, or the completely arbitrary supernatural rules (whatever needs to happen simply happens), or the fact that Paul Winfield (of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN) gets to die not once, but twice in service of the white hero...well, it's hilariously awful. I'm not surprised that the 35mm print I got to see was so beautiful--obviously, there isn't a lot of interest in showing this turkey.
This weekend I have to watch THE SEARCHERS, will do my best to watch the entire BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy (a friend just bought the Blu-Ray), and if I manage to time travel, find the time to see GHOSTBUSTERS in 70mm.