1,001 Movies – Week 19

“Billion Dollar Brain” to “The Black Cat”


Billion Dollar Brain (1967) – The third of Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer movies and a definite improvement on the disappointing Funeral in Berlin thanks, largely, to Ken Russell’s direction. Heavily anti-American (Ed Begley and Karl Malden are great in a plot about a CIA plot to overthrow Communism using computers) and very funny (“Hey English, you got any Beatles records?”) (KT)

Billy Liar (1963) – Dazzling John Schlesinger adaptation of Keith Waterhouse’s novel of a fantasists attempts to escape the dull monotony of life in Northern town in pre-swinging England. Tom Courtney is magnificent in the title role. Part of the “kitchen sink/working class hero” movement of British cinema (see also Look Back in Anger, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner) but less gritty and more wry than many of its contemporaries whilst maintaining a sense of earthy realism. A masterpiece and an influential one at that – Morrissey based an entire lyrical career on this. (KT)

The Birth of a Nation (1915) – It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be allowed to see this film in a movie theater. Groups will protest, loonies will send death threats, politicians will stand on soap boxes and if you ask any of them if they’d actually seen the film, they will say no. It’s not a nice film, but it’s an important one. It’s reflective of how our country was at the time. It’s also the movie that changed the industry. It was the first full-length film; epic in scope with director D.W. Griffith revolutionizing not only technical aspects but also storytelling in the movies.  (GS)

The Bishop’s Wife (1947) – How can an angel help a Bishop find his way when the angel is falling in love with the Bishop’s wife?  And what about the wife?  She gets to choose between Cary Grant (Angel) and David Niven (Bishop).  Not too shabby.  (KH)

The Black Cat (1934)
– The first of the “teaming” of Karloff and Lugosi. Later, one or the other would have the more prominent role (usually Karloff), but here, they really share the balance of terror.  Lugosi gets to be the good guy, for a change, even if he does skin Karloff alive.  And Edgar G. Ulmer manages to turn out one of the most perverse movies of the post-Code 30’s: Satanism, S/M, Art Deco, necromania – something for the whole family!  (KCL)


Originally published in Raspberry World – Volume 2, Issue 1 (June/July 2007)

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