Minnelli. Minnelli is very well respected by the consensus on TSPDT (he’s their #67 ranked auteur)- as he should be. Minnelli is another auteur in the long line of the “style over substance” guys who tend to be the directors I respect and admire most. He’s a former production and costume designer—that’s his lineage to becoming an director and it shows in his work. For the purposes of this list it’s really his depth of his top 5-6 that get him in the top 100 auteurs as he doesn’t really have a masterpiece and his #1 film (Meet Me in St. Louis) doesn’t actually crack my top 400. I love Meet Me in St. Louis but it’s not an overwhelming #1 film. On the flip side, having Gigi s his 4th best film (way ahead of say Mike Nichols #4 film on this list), An American In Paris as 5th, or even Lust For Life at #8 is quite impressive.
Best film: Meet Me in St. Louis. This film is really right there with The Wizard of Oz and A Star Is Born as a showcase for Judy Garland’s talents. More importantly for Minnelli’s case it marks a transition for the movie musical from the black and white Astaire and Rogers films to the gorgeous Technicolor movie musical spectacle that would dominate the next 20+ years.
total archiveable films: 11
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 1 (Meet Me in St. Louis)
top 100 films of the decade: 5 (Meet Me in St. Louis, Some Came Running, The Band Wagon, Gigi, An American in Paris)
most overrated: The Band Wagon. Again, I really appreciate the artisty not only of Minnelli, but Fred Astaire here- I just think at #246 all-time on TSPDT it’s overrated by 300 or more slots. It didn’t make my top 500.
most underrated: Gigi is one of those best picture Oscar winners that has been ridden down for so many years (no it’s not the best film of 1958- clearly vertigo, The Music Room and Touch of Evil) that it’s now underrated. It’s a widescreen colorful extravaganza (used often by Scorsese in those anti-pan and scan commercials for TCM as an example of the need for letterboxing) and should be revered and studied as such. The TSPDT couldn’t find a spot for it in their top 1000—and that’s just incorrect.
gem I want to spotlight: Some Came Running. It’s clearly his best non-musical and this was a favorite of the French New Wave I love this film and on top of getting a really well done and gorgeous Technicolor widescreen melodrama you get winning performances from Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and Dean Martin.
stylistic innovations/traits: Minnelli is a visual and color stylist that has influenced everyone from Almodovar to Scorsese (clearly two of the best with the use of color in the past 30 years). He might be the very first person people think of with costume design and certainly as we look at the arrival of color he’s up there with that. Sarris thinks that his material often sucked and it was his downfall but anyone this synonymous with the various aspects of mise-en-scene, often thought of as one of the first in Hollywood to constantly move the camera, and one of the largest proponents and users of widescreen—is more than ok in my book.
- Meet Me in St. Louis
- Some Came Running
- The Band Wagon
- An American in Paris
- The Clock
- The Bad and the Beautiful
- Lust For Life
- Cabin in the Sky
- Father of the Bride
By year and grades
|1943- Cabin in the Sky||R|
|1944- Meet Me In St. Louis||MS|
|1945- The Clock||HR|
|1948- The Pirate||R|
|1950- Father of the Bride||R|
|1951- An American In Paris||HR|
|1952- The Bad and the Beautiful||HR|
|1953- The Band Wagon||HR|
|1956- Lust For Life||R|
|1958- Some Came Running||HR/MS|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
[…] 97. Vincente Minnelli […]
I decided to cut Gigi and Lust for Life from this because the paragraphs on them get pretty critical at times even though I have an overall positive opinion of the films. Please excuse the fact that the Home From The Hill paragraph is a bit more truncated than these others, it with the two cut ones was one of the first 3 that I wrote and I don’t think I gave it as much work as I should have then. I didn’t rewrite it because already writing those last 4, where I especially have to aim to capture the greatness of the films in addition to a more general pitch that you should watch them, was difficult enough already.
9. The Bad and the Beautiful
I wonder if this film’s title inspired The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. It breaks my heart to put this magnificent film all the way down at 9th place but that should be taken as a testament to the shocking strength of Vincente Minnelli’s overall filmography. This black-and-white film is one of 3 pictures directed by Minnelli from 1951-1953 to make the TSPDT Greatest Films Top 1000 (he only has 5 films on the GF 1000 in total) and a stirring, almost uncharacteristic, indictment of Old Hollywood in the midst of its producer-driven Golden Age. The formal structure of the film is great: 3 stories from Barry Sullivan, Lana Turner and Dick Powell of their past experiences with the brutish producer Kirk Douglas, who stepped on all of them on his way to frame, but just as he was about to hit it big with them he throws them out but they find success elsewhere. Minnelli starts each story with a zoom into each character in Douglas’s office in the present and a dissolve away to the past and the endings have a similar dissolve back to the present and a zoom out. Douglas gives one of his most brutal performances over the entire film but he’s never better than in the second story with Lana Turner; she is an actress and a woman, and unlike the other two stories where Sullivan and Powell start out relatively equal in the world to Douglas (he and Sullivan set out to take over Hollywood from the bottom in the first story and Powell is a huge novelist – William Faulkner basically – who he brings out to Hollywood to assist in an adaptation of his book), she begins the film as a minor background actress – though like Douglas the child of a major figure in Hollywood – that he turns into a star, and unlike Sullivan who he just sort of tosses aside dispassionately and Powell, to whom he doesn’t even do the dirty work himself (though he arguably has the worst fate with his wife dying, though not by intention), he is personally cruel to Turner; that first scene where he destroys her, screaming at her about how she’ll never be anything but her father’s daughter as long as she can’t act like he could, as long as she’s in her “tomb” and then later on at the end of her segment as she finds out that she doesn’t love him when she finds the other girl at his mansion (though the film makes no effort to convince us they’re “in love” it just seems to be in Turner’s mind as her character isn’t shown to be very bright) and he demands she leave and then she almost kills herself driving away is another standout. Still, despite the juice in that segment, the best is probably saved for last with the screenplay turnarounds in Powell’s story; I especially love the pause at the “I begged him, don’t take that plane, Gaucho” as Douglas just stops talking knowing what he just let onto. To end the film, Minnelli’s resolution to the conflict is a perfect capper; whenever any of them met with Douglas, they all found themselves unable to resist the temptation to work with him, but instead they meet with Pidgeon, not Douglas, about the new project he wants them all for, and even though they say no, right afterward as soon as they hear Douglas’s voice over the phone they all realize it’s impossible to resist him even after all this time. It’s interesting because Minnelli creates a kind of cinematic world that some of his films take place in because in the film, Barry Sullivan directs the Greta Garbo film Anna Karenina, a real film, and later on in Two Weeks in Another Town the Lana Turner put down scene is screened for the crew of the film being made in that film, and in its universe Edward G. Robinson is it’s director and Kirk Douglas’s character in it starred in it. In fact, writing this now as caused me to realize there is so much shared connective tissue between The Bad and the Beautiful and Two Weeks in Another Town that I have decided to move this up to a Highly Recommend / Must-See border and, while I have not yet done it, it has made me consider raising Two Weeks in Another Town to a Masterpiece. It also, I think, serves as the perfect counterpoint to the accusations that Minnelli was a slave to MGM (I caught on after a few of these films and seeing that lion at the beginning of all of them that he literally only made films for MGM; of all his films only 3 of his last 4 and none that I’ve seen were for other studios and this really dogs Minnelli with some critics who think he just directed whatever film MGM told him to), with a damning portrayal of producers (it was so bad that David O. Selznick called his lawyer after watching the film to see if he might be able to sue Minnelli for libel) like you see in this.
As I said, Highly Recommend / Must-See border
8. Home From The Hill
Minnelli’s first film of the 1960s was the least of the great string of dramas he directed from 1956 to 1962 but it’s still great and a great time. This is 2 ½ hours (Minnelli’s longest film that I’ve seen) with Robert Mitchum and his voice and if you tell me that’s not a treat I’ll slap you. Mitchum stars as a landowner and hunter in Texas who has taken every woman in town and everyone except his son, George Hamilton, knows about it, and as this is happening, Mitchum is finally teaching Hamilton how to become a man after years and years of being a mama’s boy and when the younger man finds out about his father’s past, he takes his newfound courage and grit and a conflict begins. Minnelli’s style does not perfectly fit the rural countryside but he makes do in terms of the color with some great reds (not unlike Gigi) and earthy colors making up the rifle-and-deer head-covered walls of Mitchum’s mansion which are very pretty, and there is a repeated shot of two people in a car separated by the A-pillar, often used to show the disconnect between Mitchum and Hamilton, Mitchum and his ____ (spoiler), George Peppard (a great actor here), or between Hamilton and his girlfriend, Luana Patten. Early on in the film there’s a great fast-as-lightning rolling tracking shot of some of Mitchum’s hunting dogs sprinting in a forest, the mint green walls in the diner where Peppard has his brilliant conversation with Patten is a perfect backdrop to that scene and the beginning of the film is formally connected to the ending in a great way (won’t say how). The problems with the film mostly lie in Hamilton; I haven’t seen The Godfather Part III in years so I can’t accurately gauge his talent as an actor in his later years but he is remarkably poor here standing next to Mitchum, Peppard and even Patten in many of his scenes and it’s only in the very finale of the film that I was able to respect his acting, and there was such a disparity (and similar relationship) in his acting skills relative to Mitchum that I compared them to John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter in The Searchers in my review of it. I’d much rather a significantly better actor, like say John Kerr from Tea and Sympathy would be absolutely perfect, have played his role instead. Overall a great film despite its faults, which are significantly outweighed by its pros, and a powerful study of masculinity and the fight to live up to your father’s hopes for you as a man.
Highly Recommend / Must-See border with some particularly great usages of color like the red grave marker (whose it is I won’t say but feel happy to guess) at the end
7. An American in Paris
One of my absolute favorite Minnelli’s. It’s his most popular film on Letterboxd in terms of viewer count and that is not undeserving for a film this good. First off, this was my first Gene Kelly film (I have since seen Singin’ in the Rain) and I didn’t expect much from him as an actor, which was a good thing as it allowed me to be floored by his performance here. One of the earliest scenes of the film (and funniest) is when some American college student comes up to him on the street complimenting his artwork (he’s a painter) and he just tears her apart without any provocation. This is something of a love triangle here with Kelly torn between two women, the ingénue married (which he doesn’t know) dancer Leslie Caron and the wealthy heiress Nina Foch. Everybody’s performance in this film, from Kelly and his two lovers to his buddy Oscar Levant the pianist is very good even if Kelly has the best of all. Caron is the woman he truly loves, but he pays Foch attention as well because she can fund his career (though she is no cuckold; this is not a Senso Alida Valli type), but make no mistake, Kelly is a war veteran who knows quite well how to twist two women around his finger at once and thus pyramid features him at the apex. The most important aspect of the film is the scene at the end where, having lost Caron, Kelly creates an imaginary world where Caron is his all the time and they dance together for 17 minutes straight all over the city of Paris; the shot above with Kelly and Caron in black against the orange smoke is far from the only beautiful shot in this scene. Another of my favorite scenes from the film is when Levant is on his chaise longue and we dissolve away to his dream of murdering the piano at a concert where he is everybody in the orchestra, the conductor, and even the audience, and at the end of his performance we dissolve back to his blank expression as my jaw was on the floor after this scene. The only problem with the film is the ending; at the end of the ending dance, the last shot is Kelly holding a rose – representing Caron – as the camera just zooms into the rose as everything else around, including Kelly, fades to black before we cut back to Kelly at the ending party as his relationship with Foch is over and Caron is about to get married to someone else (a friend of Kelly’s and they have a great song talking about the person they love most together, who is Caron, though neither realize the other is also talking about Caron) and he just has an expression on his face like he’s lost everything, before he walks back to the party with his back to us through the narrow balcony doors. Cut. That is the perfect ending and if it ended like that it is a Must-See film. Sadly, however, it is not a happy ending, and therefore the ending we got was him running back out to the balcony after hearing Caron yelling his name from down below after her fiancé, Guétary, realized Kelly needed her more than he did and she loved Kelly more as well. I don’t hate this ending, it is nice to see them run off together at the end and all but when I saw that perfect frame of Kelly walking back defeated into the party I knew immediately that was how the film should have ended what with that dance scene right before. It perfectly portrayed the culmination of Kelly’s fantasy of a life with Caron in his mind, before it was painfully ripped away from him as we return to him at the party and see he has to go on with his life.
Highly Recommend / Must-See border
6. Meet Me in St. Louis
Meet Me in St. Louis. Before I say anything I’m just going to mention I watched this an hour or so after The Human Condition III: A Soldier’s Prayer and it was a pretty hilarious contrast to that dark and contemplative black-and-white war epic. This was the announcement of a major cinematic talent in 1944 and no it’s not Judy Garland who already had hers a few years earlier. Like that earlier announcement, this was one of the first great Technicolor films and among the best musicals of the era of any era as well. Minnelli uses a strong formal structure here with the seasons dividing the film; we start out in summer and at the end of that starting section, for fall we’re in a Halloween environment and then for winter it’s Christmas and the resolution of the film is in spring. The establishing shots for these settings are all great but the one for Halloween with the house in the night with the windows glowing yellow sort of like a Jack O’Lantern is the best I think. The film is the story of 4 sisters coming into the world and while it’s all done in a very light manner as expected from a musical Garland is really the center of it all and should be, though that being said the young Margaret O’Brien has some great scenes including the bonfire in the Halloween segment where she confronts a couple other kids are scared of to trick or treat and then heads back and is hailed as the most daring by the other children. Leon Ames is great here as the dad who stands apart mostly from the rest of the family; just has a different rhythm from the rest of them despite being the patriarch and they always lament how he seems to ruin all their fun (the bit at the beginning where one sister is going to get a call from her boyfriend with a proposal that Ames just sort of ruins before he calls again and there’s no proposal as expected is pretty funny with them all mad at him at the end) though at the end of the film he finally operates at the same level that they do which is a good touch to the story. The color and costume work is great as well especially with the many-colored dresses – mostly red and green – for the Christmas ball toward the end and especially the white outfits worn by all of the sisters at the very end of the film as they watch the St. Louis World’s Fair unveil. If I had to mention a problem it’s that the male romantic interest for Garland, Tom Drake, is a tree here and that means he’s wooden. Judy Garland is acting her ass off here and the guy opposite from her just isn’t up for it, whereas in say An American in Paris Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron are both great, ditto for Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon, and Garland again with Robert Walker in The Clock.
A Must-See film; one of Minnelli’s best
5. The Clock:
The Clock is one of my favorite Minnelli’s. This 1945 war romance film features Judy Garland, in the first role of her career ever in which she did not sing (it was another many years before she would have another) and the great Robert Walker who you should all know from Strangers on a Train, and yes, he’s as good as you’d expect him to be from that here. Minnelli casts him as an Army soldier on leave from WW2 in New York, and at Pennsylvania Station he is in a city for the first time; a great bit here where he walks outside the station and sees the skyscrapers around him like the first half of Antonioni’s La Notte, and yes, there is eventually a shot with the Manhattan Bridge like it’s Once Upon a Time in America. He soon comes across the young Judy Garland. After he accidentally causes her to break her shoe’s heel, they go across the city together to find it. This happens fast, but they do not leave eachother just yet and after she departs they agree to meet together again under The Clock at the Astor Hotel later in the day. After a strange bit where they end up in the company of a milkman, the milkman is accidentally injured at a bar and they spend the night delivering the milk for him due to his kindness. After accidentally losing eachother the next day, and being unable to find eachother for many hours, Walker realizes he cannot lose her again, and asks her to marry him, and after she accepts they are stuck in a battle against time as they have to meet with various government agencies around the city to get married before they can meet with a judge. Obviously, Minnelli’s main theme here is time; the film is named The Clock, after all, and Walker only has a couple days to stay in New York before he has to return to fight in the war. Further than that, many specific times like 7:00 or 4:00 (4:30 maybe?) are important times in the film’s plot keeping with the clock theme and the thing that drives them together to get married is the feeling of emptiness at spending time apart, as well as afterward having only a specific amount of time to get married before he must leave. I suppose you could say The Clock represents not the actual clock but rather that the amount of time they have together could be represented on a clock (ok yes they’re together for about 2-3 days but you get what I mean it’s a very short time). Especially towards the end of the film there are so many magnificent scenes, like the one where they go to a church after getting married and “officially” marry themselves, then the wordless scene in her apartment at the end where they don’t even say anything to eachother for the longest time but just enjoy eachother’s company, eventually culminating in her speech about how even though they didn’t know eachother a couple days ago, in the time since they got married. This is a Highly Recommend or HR/MS film until the very end, when we follow Garland after she leaves Walker at the station and Minnelli ends the film with a high angle crane shot up through the station as she dissolves back into the crowd again; a jaw-dropper of a final shot. Lastly, the film is also important for seeing the conception of Liza Minnelli during its filming.
A Must-See film; nice companion piece with fellow (though better) 1945 film Brief Encounter
4. Two Weeks in Another Town:
All the other films I’ve talked about show a great deal of respect for Minnelli and his abilities as a director; I love all of the movies above especially Home From The Hill, The Clock and An American in Paris, but not quite until here, Two Weeks in Another Town, does my opinion of Minnelli’s capabilities as a director rise from general respect and a feeling of his accomplishment to genuine shock at his massive skill. To think I almost didn’t watch this; it’s in 1962 which is clearly a point by which Minnelli has “lost it” and is no longer an elite director (I mean I love Home From The Hill as I’ve said before but it’s weaker than both Tea and Sympathy and Some Came Running), and on top of that it has a really terrible Letterboxd average score; I could mention the TSPDT score as well, which is also terrible, but if you go to Minnelli’s page on TSPDT you’ll notice pretty much anything from his late period, which is the strongest of his career (and sadly missing from the archives entirely except for Some Came Running and Bells Are Ringing; which is a romantic comedy and not a drama; and Minnelli’s best films were the dramas and not the comedies which is part of why The Clock flipped ahead of Meet Me in St. Louis here) does really poorly so I’m not taking into account the incorrect TSPDT rankings of Minnelli’s latest films. I was at first planning to watch for 10 minutes and then leave but those 10 minutes blew me away so hard I went for the whole thing. 2 days later I even watched this film again thinking it might go up to the Masterpiece level – yes, it’s that good – and it hasn’t yet and I’m still considering raising it to that while writing this now. This film made Godard’s Top 10 of 1963 and considering Godard hadn’t dropped off the deep end at this point this actually should mean something. Two Weeks in Another Town is a visual onslaught and proves Minnelli was a hell of a force to be reckoned with even as late as the early 60s. This film is a parody of La Dolce Vita; both are stories from the point of view of one man from the entertainment industry as he experiences a strange world of hedonism submerging him, and as he takes part in that submerging himself. The film starts out with Kirk Douglas, a great achievement for him here as an actor by the way, in a sanitarium following a mental breakdown and the rest of the film is his healing process; his regaining of his sanity through his experiences. Edward G. Robinson is fantastic here as the director of the film Douglas is coming to Rome to appear in as are Claire Trevor as Robinson’s wife and Cyd Charisse (also of The Band Wagon) as Douglas’s ex-wife who played a part in his asylum history. I don’t even know where to start on this film with the brilliant scenes; I could talk about the early tracking shot inside Robinson’s apartment as Trevor – a real American Hustle J Law type – is just screaming at the unresponsive but dead inside Robinson and then you’ve got the multiple mirror shots hidden inside this tracking shot, or the red room (like Gigi) they put Robinson in after he has his heart attack (A. spoiler and B. guess what caused that heart attack…), or the ending with Douglas and Charisse drunk driving in the car as the camera revolves around it like it’s the Sun… (this scene is generally considered to be a reference to the death of Alfonso de Portago) so many indelible scenes packed into the 107 minute runtime. I could talk about the montages and dissolves as Douglas is directing the film in Robinson’s absence and the blocking on the film set – genius here – could be right out of a Luchino Visconti film. The film has a hell of a sense of humor like Robinson bashing the door open and accidentally – and very dramatically – breaking the mirror when going into the bathroom to convince Trevor not to kill herself or Douglas kicking his lead actress in the ass unexpectedly. Minnelli throws fuck yous at seemingly everything here; at Hollywood, at Cinecitta and Italian cinema, at producers who think films are just commercial ventures (Robinson’s and Douglas’s film-within-a-film has one of those), at your dog, at I don’t even know and there’s a point at which it stops making sense and at this point this stops being just a good movie to something mesmerizingly brilliant. This film is like watching Hollywood films respond to arthouse films and it’s a big screw you to them even if it adopts much of their methodology. This film also, as I’ve said previously, is a spiritual sequel to The Bad and the Beautiful; there’s a great shot with deep reds and blues – look up this film on Google Images and you’ll find this shot – inside a theater as the cast and crew are getting The Bad and the Beautiful screened for them and Douglas’s character was the star and Robinson the director. The film is the same statement about moviemaking, not that I have any clue what it is but it is a statement nonetheless, made in Minnelli’s film from 10 years earlier. Unlike the cold and reserved The Bad and the Beautiful, this film is loud and violent and it’s Goddamn fucking insane and all the better for it. This film is so good it makes rear-projection arthouse as fuck in the wild car ride finale and that is fucking cinema. Fuck what the fuck has happened to me as I’m writing this. Even little things like Robinson getting his leg stroked by the film’s actress as he gives a toast to Trevor at their anniversary to Minnelli’s constant uses of dissolves (a particularly good one going from a scene in the production’s script to the scene in the midst of it getting filmed) add to this film. Holy crap how many films have captured the filmmaking process better? Contempt? 8 ½? (By the way this film definitely inspired Contempt down to the colors, similar lead character and interactions with other characters and the car finale) I can’t think of all that many more. This film is not to over-the-top like many say. This is not La Dolce Shita.
Anyway, when Godard referenced Minnelli in Contempt’s script (PROOF THAT GODARD WAS INSPIRED I KNOW IT), he decided to use Some Came Running instead of Two Weeks in Another Town, but I know already that he had this as one of the top 10 films of the year. I know.
Must-See albeit leaning Masterpiece with a future 3rd viewing; it’s just Minnelli’s ultimate statement as a director
3. The Band Wagon
It should come as no secret if you read the above – indeed, I do believe I’ve outright said it a number of occasions up there – that I generally think more highly of Minnelli’s late period dramas than his musicals (I mean hey, so did Sarris!). So it should come as a bit of a surprise that a musical comes so close to being his strongest work, but no, I think the world of The Band Wagon. Fred Astaire leads as a down-on-his-luck big star of old who is forced by circumstance to return from the screen to the Broadway stage where he will star in a comedy musical organized by some of his friends. However, to his chagrin, the musical is turned into a strange retelling of Faust by its director, and cast alongside him as the lead actress is a ballerina, Cyd Charisse, who he resents for being on the comeup like he was once and ignores on set. This film is a story of the building of an artistic work, a common reoccurrence in Minnelli’s filmography, and while sure, it may be relatively simple compared to other examples of the same – Capra could arguably have made this film – that doesn’t make it a weaker end product. This film’s songs are out of this world; the early bit with Astaire and the shoeshine guy at the train station, the two performances of “That’s Entertainment” with the second being the very end of the film are especially amazing, but I think my favorite of the shorter ones is the one with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse singing “Dancing in the Dark” in the park at night with the backdrop of the city behind them and both dressed completely in white; this is one of the highest highs the film reaches and it goes pretty far up there. After the arguments between Astaire and the rest of the crew (the “song and dance man” monologue is so good!) leading to his reconciliation with Charisse during the scene I just talked about, we finally get to the performance of Faust and it’s done wonderfully double exposing the names of the cities they come to, the trains they ride in on, and the performances themselves all over the screen together as so many other directors have done (I’ve seen it in several other films but the only one coming to mind right now is Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men). These performances are amazingly brilliant; the one with Astaire, Nanette Fabray (amazing here; probably the best performance from anyone in the film and that’s something considering how good Fred Astaire is), and Jack Buchanan as babies followed up by the one with Fabray as a Southern lass, Charisse has a really strong one for her with some backup dancers and a giant Sun behind here (thanks for the costume and set work Minnelli!), but all of this is just buildup, just previews, for the ultimate cinematic explosion from Minnelli. The big finale, the Girl Hunt Ballet, is 12 unbroken minutes of Minnelli musical off the rails. You’ve got the expressionistic city backdrop, Cyd Charisse’s dresses in every color, Astaire as a Bogart-type character, that one mirrored purple room, the low angle camera movement, and the camera literally SPINNING around like it’s a car tire whenever Astaire blacks out during the scene and Minnelli does this not once but 2-3 times during this 12 minute scene. It’s a stunning display of pure directing prowess and, even if the film still goes a little bit longer afterward so it can have a resolution, this is the single greatest scene Minnelli ever directed even if he would make 2 films that are better.
The Band Wagon is one of the greatest musical films of all time and a Masterpiece.
2. Tea and Sympathy
Tea and Sympathy. This film has not gotten a massive amount of critical attention over the years yet it manages to make the #2 spot for one of the best directors in Hollywood history and given that it lands ahead of a Masterpiece I’ll let you all figure out what grade I’m giving this film. It’s not worth all that much with how much they beat up Two Weeks in Another Town and even Some Came Running as well – neither are well represented on it – but this has the highest rating of anything Minnelli ever directed on Letterboxd with a 4.0 average and it is his only film to have at least a 4-star rating on there; everything else is 3.9 or less and that is quite shameful. This film begins as Tom Lee, a successful novelist, returns to his prep school of old after 10 years of financial success, and returns to memories of his past as a young man, and particularly of his mother figure Laura, the wife of the principal who was the only person he remembers being kind to him. The principal encouraged masculine traits in his students, with the other boys at the school obsessed with sports, roughhousing, women, and especially ganging up on Tom, who is interested in plays, classical music, and other artistic pursuits that are anathema to the other students. Even his own father, played by a very good Edward Andrews, is unhappy about his son’s perceived femininity and is a close friend of the principal who is responsible for the other boy’s harassment of his own son. The film’s title derives from Laura’s primary method of connecting with Tom; she will invite him to drink tea with her in her garden (one of the pivotal locations of the film) and there she will express her sympathy over the behavior of her husband, which is because she, too, feels imprisoned at the school; there’s a great shot that I unbelievably cannot find online of her in her kitchen breaking down as she listens to her husband and Tom’s father talking about his behavior and they can be seen through the window in the kitchen almost like they are guards and the house is her prison. The film is basically a Sirkian melodrama and while the majority of the film stays surprisingly reserved emotionally for a Minnelli film, there are a few outbursts like Tom angrily attempting to kill himself at one point in the film after even a prostitute makes fun of his unmasculinity. The film is most famous for being an early gay film, all the way back in the 1950s, and while I will not say that is an important part of this film it is true that in the end, Tom is heterosexual and while I will concede that he would almost surely not be if this film were made today, this film was made in 1956 and that is really as far as I will go talking about the study of homosexuality in this film, as the time period makes it a study of masculinity instead and it is a hell of a good one – makes for a great pair with Home From The Hill to that end. The performances in this film are magnificent; I had no doubt that Deborah Kerr, having seen her in the past would absolutely murder her role as the sympathetic schoolmaster’s wife and she is extraordinary here (I think this rivals but probably doesn’t top Black Narcissus for her career-best work), but John Kerr as Tom Lee is the revelation here; I might be willing to say he outacts Deborah with the evolution from his deadpan in the beginning of the film to his growing anger – not too unlike Frank Sinatra in Some Came Running – as his hell of a world develops around him and this is some nobody actor I had never even heard of before watching this (won a Tony Award for this role on Broadway and a Golden Globe for the film); I think the reason his name is not mentioned as much as Clift, Brando or Dean is (obviously) he didn’t do many films (I suppose Dean is the same but his case is special here) and mainly because, while they all perfected portrayals of young, moody, emotional men dealing with a very conservative environment, John Kerr’s acting does not have the masculine tinge that the others did and that is where the big difference is. The visuals are all extraordinary here, I wouldn’t have this ranked so high if they weren’t, but one particular one I noticed is this red neon sign at the cafe where the prostitute girl stays at and whenever we are in the cafe with her and the sign buzzes, the entire room just lights up like it’s on fire and it’s stunning; at one point eventually we get Deborah Kerr looking out from an upstairs window out at the cafe and sure enough that sign is out there lighting the world on fire. There’s a few criticisms to be had with the portrayal of John Kerr’s femininity which are mostly centered around him wearing a dress at times since he’s set to play a female character in a play some of the other boys goaded him into doing (Andrews forces him out of the play after hearing about this) and the fact that he did this and turned out not to be at least a little bit homosexual (that feels really mean to gays to write but I’m serious) is just a bit hard to believe and sure enough he mostly ignored their bullying prior to the start of the film (the film is really the story of it beginning to tear him down and his reaction to it) that he might not have cared about the role in the play at first but it still does require a small suspension of disbelief. On top of that I also think John Kerr’s nickname, “Sister Boy” could have used some work. That being said, the emotional moments of this film like when the two Kerrs are together in the living room just before a school dance and she’s telling him the story of her first husband who died in WW2 and how good and kind he was unlike Leif Erickson who is the principal, the part towards the end when Deborah finds John in the forest after his breakdown and there’s the ethereal light peeking out from behind the trees (probably used to imply the dreamlike quality of this scene) and then the bit as we return to the present 10 years later and John is reading the letter from Deborah (incredible voiceover) with the editing around him as he does so and then the final crane shot as he finishes reading… I don’t know how you can get past it all. It’s such an amazingly underrated film. Also, perhaps a minor stretch here, but it’s very touching that he goes out into her garden to read the letter, since that was the place he knew she spent the most time in and it’s almost like with her voiceover that she has died and is speaking to him from beyond the grave, even though we know she is still alive.
In my opinion, a Masterpiece.
Some Came Running:
“Doesn’t it [black wig] suit me?”
“No. I prefer you as a blonde.”
“Well I prefer you without a hat and cigar.”
“It’s just to look like Dean Martin in Some Came Running.”
Since it was this quote from Jean-Luc Godard’s masterpiece Contempt that sent me on this whole journey through the filmography of Vincente Minnelli, I decided there would be no other possible way to start my review of the great director’s finest work. This film amazes me. Every element of it swirling around in this whirlpool, from the conflict between Sinatra and Arthur Kennedy over Sinatra’s image, to Sinatra’s Madonna-whore complex exemplified in the love interests of Martha Hyer and Shirley MacLaine to his pursuit of his vices with MacLaine and Dean Martin. You wouldn’t think of it, because this term was largely shunned by the Vague boys who were deeply touched by this film, but it’s kind of epic, and this was a character Minnelli had tried to capture in almost every film he made, with the ensemble casts and the sweeping plotlines and deepening holes the characters dig themselves into (especially in the drama period that I love so much) but he never did it again so well as he did here. Sinatra has two men and two women that reflect each side of him; Martin and MacLaine, as written above, are his dominant side that wants to ignore the prospects of a reasonable life, and Hyer and Kennedy are his recessive side, who in Kennedy’s case he mostly ignores completely and with Hyer he pursues desperately, that represent the opportunity for something real; Kennedy is a banker whilst Martin is a gambler, and Hyer is a teacher of children whereas MacLaine is a whore. MacLaine runs to Sinatra at every chance she gets and Martin even lets him live in his house, whereas Kennedy tried to shut him away in the past and arguably tried to wipe away any knowledge of his existence and Hyer allows him to pursue him at first before going cold turkey on him in the end. Even with all these people in his life Sinatra is firmly independent; he makes the women want him rather than the other way around and forces Kennedy to acknowledge his presence the moment he walks back into town at the beginning. A melodrama is just an exaggerated variations of reality and here Minnelli has perfected it: the worldbuilding here, the portrait he creates of small-town America and Sinatra’s drift through it is captured in a totally instinctual manner; Dean Martin literally starts a fight over a man knocking his hat off and that expresses this film’s world better than probably any other example I can think of. Any film can be improved by throwing Dean Martin in it. One thing I can’t not speak about when reviewing this film is it’s influence on the Vague and when you’re watching this you know it’s simply incalculable; as the 1950s went on you almost started to see Minnelli influenced by Nicholas Ray; don’t tell me Sinatra couldn’t be considered a rebel without a cause after watching this film. Look at the constant smoking and joking, even the hats (Godard LITERALLY openly admits this influenced him in that line from Contempt), the color is there as much as anything by Minnelli, there’s guns, gambling, picking up women, bars, antihero protagonist, snappy dialogue, there’s everything. Like I said with Nicholas Ray, it even takes a similar attitude of ambivalence towards modernity and an aimless approach to life like that that you tend to find in the Vague films; Sinatra is an intellectual who doesn’t care about academia sort of like Belmondo is in Pierrot le Fou. The female characters are pretty different; not much of a Karina-type present here. You can say there’s not really some kind of artistic declaration you see in the likes of Sam Fuller’s Park Row about newspapership but it’s got almost everything else. One of the biggest scenes to this end is the ending of the film. Montage editing as we cut between Sinatra and MacLaine, MacLaine’s ex-husband, Martin, even occasionally Hyer and Sinatra’s niece at a rapid pace as the tension ramps up. Colors are everywhere at this carnival they’re at making for the centerpiece of the film (and, though this is a bit of a stretch, sort of a pessimistic take on the ending of Meet Me in St. Louis with the World’s Fair from Minnelli after 14 years) as we walk through all of the events at the fair, and there’s low angles, Dutch angles, tracking shots, you know it. There’s an especially famous low angle shot of the ex-husband running by a spinning ride with lights of all different colors and it’s not long before we repeat the shot now with Martin. The editing keeps ramping up until the fateful ending to the film (I won’t speak in depth on what formal elements all converge here but there’s more than a few; I’ll let anyone reading this review find them out for himself) and then the final scene, at the funeral, as the camera just keeps on zig-zagging between the characters before the film ends. For as much as the rest of the film is characterized by such passionate highs, it makes the ending’s portrayal of loss with a somber low all the more powerful.
From Letterboxder Apisa7: “I walked out of the theater and was surprised to see the world still operating as it always does.”
Same. And nice Johnny Guitar profile picture on you too.
My ranking of Minnelli`s films that I`ve seen:
1. Some Came Running MS
2. Tea and Sympathy MS
3. The Band Wagon MS
4. Meet Me in St. Louis MS
5. An American in Paris HR/MS
6. Gigi HR/MS
7. The Bad and the Beautiful HR
8. Lust for Life R/HR
5 Best Performances
1. Garland- Meet Me in St. Louis
2. Douglas- Lust for Life
3. Kerr- Tea and Sympathy
4. MacLaine- Some Came Running
5. Caron- Gigi