Archive 5, Vol.1

Part of the impetus behind this new era of 100 Films was to solve ‘problems’ like my repeated failure to post reviews. Hopefully my plan for regular groups of capsule-sized reviews will solve that going forward. But this has been an issue for a while, and that’s led to a huge backlog of unreviewed films from 2019 to 2021 — it totals a ridiculous 449 feature films (counting shorts too, it goes over 500). Rather than abandon those to the mists of time, I present a new weekly (more or less — let’s not overcommit myself) series: Archive 5.

Essentially, it’s the same format as new viewing: each post is a collection of short reviews; but here they’re five titles plucked at random from my archive of unreviewed films (and I’ve used a random number generator, so it’s genuinely unmethodical). If I can keep this up weekly, it will take me just under two years to clear the backlog — which means I could still be reviewing stuff from 2019 in 2023. Hahaha… haha… ha… ugh.

With that in mind, there’s no need for further ado. This week’s Archive 5 are…

  • Never Too Young to Die (1986)
  • Bachelor Knight (1947)
  • Little Women (2019)
  • Aniara (2018)
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

    (I Care a Lot was originally intended to be part of this post, but then the review turned out a little long, so I spun it off by itself. That’s the kind of thing I’ll probably keep doing, too.)


    Never Too Young to Die

    (1986)

    Gil Bettman | 97 mins | digital (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 18 / R

    Never Too Young to Die

    If you dropped A View to a Kill, Rocky Horror, WarGames, and Mad Max 2 into a blender, the end result might be Never Too Young to Die. And if that sounds like a ludicrous, unpalatable mash-up… yep, that’s Never Too Young to Die.

    This direct-to-video action-adventure stars a pre-Full House John Stamos as Lance Stargrove, a teenage gymnast whose dad is a secret agent (played by George Lazenby — aged 47 at the time, but looking at least 20 years older). When daddy is killed, Lance teams up with his partner (singer turned actress Vanity) to go after the culprit: gang leader and wannabe terrorist Velvet Von Ragnar (Gene Simmons (yes, from Kiss), chewing scenery as if he’s not been fed for months).

    If you’ve never heard of this film… well, neither had I, until a Cracked article suggesting comical substitutes for Covid-delayed blockbusters. But what really convinced me to watch it is that it has The Greatest Trailer Ever Made. If you set out to make a spoof ’80s trailer, I’m not convinced you’d be able to beat that. Unfortunately, neither can the film as a whole. It’s fun at times (the boob-biting final fight, or a scene where Stamos tries to distract himself from Vanity’s sexuality by… eating multiple apples), but it’s not quite camp or daft enough to really earn a place as a cult classic.

    I’ll say this for it, though: rewatching that trailer has made me really want to watch the film again…

    3 out of 5

    Never Too Young to Die was #70 in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2020.


    Bachelor Knight

    (1947)

    aka The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

    Irving Reis | 91 mins | digital (SD) | 4:3 | USA / English | U

    Bachelor Knight

    If you ever need to name an obscure Oscar winner for some reason, you could do worse than Bachelor Knight — or, to give it its even-dumber-sounding original title, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. Yes, this won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (the other nominees aren’t the greatest field you’ve ever seen, but altogether they’re either better-remembered or were considered good enough to nominate for other gongs that evening, so quite how this took the prize, I don’t know).

    The plot also stretches credibility: after high schooler Susan (Shirley Temple) becomes infatuated with artist Richard Nugent (Cary Grant), she sneaks into his place to model for him, much to the disapproval of her older sister Margaret (Myrna Loy), who also happens to be a judge; and when Nugent ends up in her court room, she sentences him to date Susan until her infatuation inevitably wears itself out. I know things are different in the US, and also in the past, but did/do judges there really have the power to hand out any crazy made-up sentences they like?

    On the bright side, the film moves sprightly through its plot. Perhaps that’s because it takes a whole 40 minutes to get through the basic setup, even while running at a pace, means there’s less screen time left to dwell on all that follows. Not that some individual bits don’t go on a tad, like a picnic sequence; but others work very well, like a scene in a nightclub that is a nicely-written bit of escalating farce.

    It’s not the best work of anyone involved, but Bachelor Knight belies its iffy title (both of them) to be a likeable-enough 90 minutes of screwball comedy.

    3 out of 5

    Bachelor Knight was #70 in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2021.


    Little Women

    (2019)

    Greta Gerwig | 135 mins | cinema | 1.85:1 | USA / English | U / PG

    Little Women

    Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel was greeted in some quarters by questions of if it was necessary: it’s the sixth big-screen version of Alcott’s book, and came just two years after a major new BBC adaptation. Well, I don’t know if it was ‘necessary’ or not, but Gerwig’s version is definitely a very good film.

    A key point that marks it out from other adaptations is that Gerwig has restructured the story: instead of playing out in a straightforward chronological fashion, it flashes back and forth in the sisters’ lives, starting with them as young women in 1868, with Jo in New York and Amy in Paris, before mixing in events from their childhood, seven years earlier, when the four sisters lived together in Massachusetts. This might seem like a rejig for the sake of differentiation, but Gerwig uses it to create interesting juxtapositions or to reframe plot points. For one example (spoilers follow, if you’re not familiar with the story), I felt it made Laurie and Amy’s relationship less creepy. Told chronologically, they first meet when he’s a young man and she’s a child, and he only moves his affection to her after Jo’s rejected him and Amy’s grown up. In Gerwig’s version, we first meet them together in Paris, and they seem more destined for each other, with a genuine spark between them as individuals, rather than a nagging sense of “if I can’t have one sister, this other will do”. It’s only later we learn the full backstory of Laurie and Jo — and, for that matter, of Jo and Amy — which, yeah, is obviously still a bit creepy, when you think about it.

    Whichever way you cut it, Gerwig seems to really get to the heart of the meaning in the story and characters, as well as giving it a lightly feminist polish (misogynists would probably consider it Terribly Feminist and Evilly Revisionist, if they watched it, which I don’t imagine they would). A star-studded cast ensure the whole thing is well acted, and it’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Yorick Le Saux. Questions about ‘necessariness’ are particularly irrelevant when the work is this good.

    5 out of 5

    Little Women was #4 in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2020.


    Aniara

    (2018)

    Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja | 106 mins | digital (HD) | 2.35:1 | Sweden & Denmark / Swedish & English | 18 / R

    Aniara

    A sci-fi movie based on, somewhat oddly, a 1950s Swedish poem, Aniara is about a spaceship transporting migrators from Earth to Mars that accidentally veers off course and heads irretrievably into deep space. Rather than the kind of action-adventure this might provoke if it were a Hollywood production, Aniara follows how the passengers and crew attempt to cope with their new lives.

    It’s a premise interesting enough that you feel it could fuel a TV series — how this mass of people, forced together by accident and terrible circumstance, comes to function (or not) as a society. Or maybe the remake of Battlestar Galactica already nailed that kinda thing. Either way, here it’s condensed into about 100 minutes; and because it has such a long-term view of what it wants to pack in, there are some surprisingly large time jumps (by the half-hour mark we’ve already reached Year 3). It takes some odd detours when it does that (society completely breaks down into weirdo cults… then a probe that might allow them to return home is discovered, at which point everything goes back to normal), but overall it has a pretty clear thesis about humanity and how we cope with things — “not well”, fundamentally.

    The final act kind of rushes a similar point, skipping ahead (several times) to how things are even worse without really tracking the descent. Maybe that’s why I liked the idea of a series version so much: to fill in all those blanks. But I don’t want to take this criticism too much to heart. If anything, the fact I wanted more detail is a compliment. It’s not the film bungling developments and me searching for justification, but rather that I’d be interested in seeing the themes and characters explored in even more detail. As it stands, Aniara is an epic-scale story told well in a somewhat condensed fashion.

    5 out of 5

    Aniara was #65 in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2020. It placed 21st on my list of The Best Films I Saw in 2020.


    Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

    (1966)

    Mike Nichols | 131 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 12

    Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

    When a middle-aged college professor (Richard Burton) and his wife (Elizabeth Taylor) have his new young colleague (George Segal) and wife (Sandy Dennis) around for drinks one evening, the occasion soon degenerates into a verbal slanging match between the elder couple, the younger inescapably caught in the middle.

    And as the film takes place in almost-real-time, in just a couple of locations, it feels like we’re trapped with them. With a running time north of two hours, the film’s drunken sardonicism almost becomes an endurance test, particularly when it goes on a bit too long in the middle. But it’s carried through by some magnificent performances. Everyone talks about Taylor — just 33 at the time, she wasn’t sure she could play the part of a bitter 52-year-old, but she’s excellent — or they talk about Taylor and Burton — similarly, he wasn’t sure he could play a beaten-down failure of a man, having been used to taking dashing heroic roles — but Sandy Dennis is great too, and deserved her Oscar. Of the four actors, its George Segal who draws the short straw, not really getting the material to truly stand toe-to-toe with the other three (he still got an Oscar nom, though).

    Director Mike Nichols insisted the film be shot in black & white, which helps it to pull off Taylor’s ageing makeup, but was also intended to stop it seeming too ‘literal’ and instead give an abstract quality. That fits the material, because the characters, events, and revelations are all pretty odd; the way it plays out pretty strange. Plus, the pitch-black darkness of the night fits the film’s themes. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler does a superb (indeed, Oscar-winning) job, the photography looking more striking than you might expect, or even need, for such an actor-focused character piece.

    A whole featurette on the film’s disc release discusses how it was “too shocking for its time”, mainly because of the language used (the fact the film was made relatively unedited set a ball rolling that, just a couple of years later, saw the Production Code replaced by the modern MPAA classification system). While such concerns are no longer really relevant (once-controversial terms like “screw” and “goddamn” are hardly “fuck”, are they?), that the film is still powerful shows it was never truly about what was said, but who said it and how they said it. I don’t mean to say that it would still be offensive today, but rather that it still packs an emotive punch.

    5 out of 5

    Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was #22 in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2021.


  • Song of the Thin Man (1947)

    2015 #19
    Edward Buzzell | 83 mins | DVD | 1.33:1 | USA / English | U

    Song of the Thin ManThe final film in the Thin Man series sees married detective duo Nick and Nora Charles (the ever-excellent William Powell and Myrna Loy) getting embroiled in the world of jazz musicians, after a friend’s fiancé is accused of murdering a band leader.

    After the small-town detour of the previous film, Song sees the Charleses back in the more glamorous environs we associate with the series, all swanky apartments and floating casinos. That’s a big plus point for me, at least. The mystery is a particularly solid one, with a nice denouement that plays out slightly differently to the series’ regular formula. I was less keen on all the jazz hipster dialogue from the supporting cast. It’s played for laughs, leaving Nick and Nora as lost as the viewer, but gets tiresome. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, but I had no time for it.

    An early-career Gloria Grahame is mostly wasted in a slight role, while trivia-spotters will enjoy a 10-year-old Dean “Quantum Leap” Stockwell as Nick Jr. Thankfully the kid isn’t allowed to dominate proceedings too much, though does lead to a bizarre sequence where Nick has flashbacks while about to smack his bottom. I’d say it sounds weirder written down than it plays in the film, but I’m not sure that’s true. More sadly, there’s too little of Asta for my taste.

    Family of the Thin ManApparently Loy made it clear before filming began that this was to be the last Thin Man film. Somewhat odd, then, that it’s one of the few to end with an allusion to Nick continuing his detective work in the future, whereas normally he’s being dragged out of retirement each time and happy to return to it by the end (which we don’t believe, of course). Either way, it was probably a wise decision on the part of Mrs Charles, as the law of diminishing returns had kicked in by this point.

    That said, after six instalments, it’s pleasurable to be able to say there’s no such thing as a bad Thin Man film. The earlier entries may be the very best, but every one has something fun to offer. This may be where the Thin Man’s song ended, but his melody lingers on even now.

    3 out of 5

    Read my reviews of all the Thin Man films on Thin Man Thursdays.

    The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)

    2015 #11
    Richard Thorpe | 96 mins | DVD | 1.33:1 | USA / English | PG

    The Thin Man Goes HomeAfter four glamorous adventures, high-living sleuths Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) head to small-town America to visit his parents (Harry Davenport and Lucile Watson), and naturally find themselves embroiled in a murder plot.

    For my money, The Thin Man Goes Home is unquestionably the series’ weakest entry so far, though others disagree — some even reckon it their favourite. The charm and banter between Powell and Loy is present and correct, though Nora seems a little dippier than usual, perhaps. Thankfully they’ve ditched the kid (he’s been left at school) and there are some good Asta bits. Plus, after four whole films, there’s finally a gag about there being a hotel homophonic with said dog.

    But moving the action to a small town, rather than the series’ usual ritzy milieu, feels… wrong. It’s constrained, low-key, and not in-keeping with the series’ style. Throw in a convoluted plot about a painting, and a supporting cast that includes a significant role for Edward Brophy, co-star of three Falcon films, and it almost feels more like an entry from RKO’s comedy sleuthing series. It’s not bad, just not right.

    Other unusual quirks include it taking a full half-hour for the murder plot to arrive. I’ve acknowledged before that the mysteries aren’t the real point of these films, but it still feels tardy. I honestly began to wonder if there was even going to be a mystery, or if new-to-the-series director Richard Thorpe was attempting to deliver an hour-and-a-half hanging out with Nick and Nora in their downtime. Also, almost the entire story is their fault! Okay, there’s a criminal scheme going on anyway, but if the Charleses hadn’t turned up and Nora hadn’t started meddling, Eeny meeny miny mothen no one would’ve been murdered. (Probably.)

    As I said, The Thin Man Goes Home is by no means a bad film, with plenty of Nick, Nora and Asta moments to enjoy and buoy up the less-than-stellar mystery. Nonetheless, I think it’s the least Thin Man-like instalment of the series. This change from the norm obviously works for some of the series’ fans, but not for me.

    3 out of 5

    Read my reviews of all the Thin Man films on Thin Man Thursdays.

    Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)

    2015 #4
    Maj. W.S. Van Dyke II | 93 mins | DVD | 1.33:1 | USA / English | PG

    Shadow of the Thin ManThis time it’s not personal for Nick and Nora Charles (the joyous William Powell and Myrna Loy), as they stumble upon the murder of a race-fixing jockey and the subsequent killing of a corrupt journalist… and then one of their friends (Barry Nelson, aka the first screen James Bond) is accused. Oh, OK, maybe it’s a bit personal.

    As ever, the true delights of a Thin Man film lie in its characters, the teasing interactions between Nick and Nora, and between Nick & Nora and anyone else they share a scene with. As incidental as the case may be, it’s a pretty good one — the solution to the jockey’s murder is a particularly neat change of pace, and while the culprit is deducible using the series’ regular “the least-likely person did it for a reason we’ll cook up at the end” formula, if you play by the rules it’s a trickier spot.

    The previous film’s baby is now a toddler, thankfully sidelined but for a couple of sequences. One of those sees Nick, Nick Jr and dog Asta on a merry-go-round in a complete aside that nonetheless stands as one of the film’s more memorable moments… though that’s once again thanks to Asta.

    Asta at the tableAs murder mysteries go, the Thin Man series tends to offer plots that are somewhere between perfunctory and over-complicated to the point of being unsolvable, and Shadow is a typical example. But that doesn’t matter a jot, because the story’s abundance of incident keeps things moving, and the real entertainment value lies in the comedy chops of the three leads: Powell, Loy, and, of course, Asta the dog.

    4 out of 5

    Read my reviews of all the Thin Man films on Thin Man Thursdays.

    Another Thin Man (1939)

    2014 #129
    W.S. Van Dyke II | 98 mins | DVD | 1.33:1 | USA / English | U

    Another Thin ManHusband-and-wife detective duo Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) — now with a baby in tow — are once again coerced into investigating a crime when the manager of Nora’s estate fears a dismissed employee is plotting murder.

    As per usual, a complex web of lies and deception unfurls, enlivened by the comic teasing between our leads. The baby prompts an unlikeable subplot about a bunch of ex-cons throwing a party for the detective who put them away (as you do), but it does aid a somewhat farcical climax. The rest of the movie offers the series’ trademark delights.

    4 out of 5

    Read my reviews of all the Thin Man films on Thin Man Thursdays.

    In the interests of completing my ever-growing backlog, I decided to post ‘drabble reviews’ of some films. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a drabble is a complete piece of writing exactly 100 words long. You’ve just read one.

    After the Thin Man (1936)

    2014 #124
    W.S. Van Dyke | 108 mins | DVD | 1.33:1 | USA / English | U

    After the Thin ManImmediately after their New York Christmastime adventure in The Thin Man (the sequel’s title is very literal!), married detectives Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) are back home in San Francisco for New Year. Summoned to dinner by Nora’s stuffy aunt, it turns out Nora’s cousin’s rascally husband has gone missing and they want Nick to investigate. They find him easily, but he’s shortly murdered and our heroes are drawn into a web of conspiracies and deceptions.

    For my money, After the Thin Man is a more successful venture than the first film, however good that was. From the start it has its focus in the right place: rather than a lengthy preamble with the supporting cast (as in the first film), here we begin with Nick and Nora arriving in San Francisco and teasing the horde of journalists that greet them. It takes a little while to actually get to the case they need to investigate, but that’s fine because it isn’t really the point — it’s the interactions, the humour and good-natured teasing, particularly between our wedded heroes, that are the films’ primary joy.

    Nonetheless, I still found the case to be a more puzzling and intriguing one than the first film’s, though the subsequent fame of a supporting player — namely James Stewart, in just the second year of his career, looking young but sounding like he always would — might help some along in their deductions.

    He won't stay thin if he's always in the fridge...There’s also an increased role for the couple’s dog, Asta, granted his own subplot as he has to fend off a philandering Scottie with intentions toward Mrs Asta. I make no apologies for preferring this over the previous film in part because there’s more amusing doggy action.

    The original Thin Man may have attracted Oscar nominations and all that, but this first sequel clarifies, sharpens, and perfects the formula, placing more emphasis on the elements that worked so well and still presenting a mystery that’s at least as good as its predecessor.

    5 out of 5

    Read my reviews of all the Thin Man films on Thin Man Thursdays.

    ‘Thin Man’ Thursday

    William Powell and Myrna Loy starred in 14 films together between 1934 and 1947, and the most famous of these are a series of detective films that started life as a B-movie adaptation of a Dashiell Hammett novel, before earning multiple Oscar nominations and enough popularity to inspire multiple sequels, a spin-off TV series, and more. That film, of course, is The Thin Man.

    Powell and Loy play Nick and Nora Charles, a retired detective and his well-to-do wife, who are trying to enjoy the high life but are regularly dragged in to investigating murders, mainly thanks to her curiosity and his crime-solving genius. Special mention must also be made for the couple’s dog, Asta, a wire fox terrier who was so popular he was paid many times more than your average movie dog, and whose role only increases as the series continues — he even has a romantic subplot in the second film.

    The films on the whole are more concerned with the screwball-ish relationship between the leads than they are with the mysteries, which are so speedily intricate as to barely be worth following — just accepting what Nick tells you and going along with it may be the order of the day. They all have the air of Agatha Christie-esque parlour games more than genuine criminal undertakings, which of course means they make for splendid entertainment.

    Six films were produced in all, over the course of 13 years — rather the opposite to most of these ’30s/’40s detective series, which were more likely to churn out 13 movies in six years. Anyway, it’s the perfect number to allow every Thursday between now and the end of February to be Thin Man Thursday here at 100 Films. Below you’ll find links to all the reviews as and when they’re available, starting today with (naturally) the first:


    The Thin Man

    After the Thin Man

    Another Thin Man

    Shadow of the Thin Man

    The Thin Man Goes Home

    Song of the Thin Man

    The Thin Man (1934)

    2014 #120
    W.S. Van Dyke | 87 mins | DVD | 1.33:1 | USA / English | U

    The Thin ManProduced as a B-movie, but eventually nominated for four of the biggest Oscars (Picture, Actor, Director, Screenplay*), comedic detective mystery The Thin Man went on to spawn five sequels and a TV series (not to mention a radio series, a stage play, and a musical), as well as inspiring a host of similar comic-mystery B-movie series like the Saint and the Falcon.

    Playing like a cross between an Agatha Christie mystery and a screwball comedy, it’s in fact based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, author of The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, and other hard-boiled tales. This is definitely not one of those. The murder mystery is standard enough — a businessman has disappeared, but when his former secretary and lover is found dead, he’s the prime suspect — albeit with enough genuine suspects and twists to keep the viewer guessing. The real joy comes from the investigators: retired detective and alcohol fan Nick Charles (William Powell) and his rich, interested wife Nora (Myrna Loy). Plus their dog, Asta, who gets up to all kinds of mischief. Regular readers will know I’m half-sold on the film at that point.

    The film luxuriates in the interactions between Powell and Loy, and between them and any other character. The plot regularly takes a back seat to the cast’s playfulness, which only the most mystery-focused viewer will find objectionable, because it’s so delightful. Acting drunk for the sake of comedy might seem like a cheap fallback, but Powell is on just the right side of the line to make it work flawlessly, especially in scenes that border on farce, Screwing aroundlike a Christmas party which is regularly interrupted by victims and suspects. Even the final scene, a rambling and none-more-Christie-like “gather all the suspects and reveal the answers” dinner party, seems natural because of the characterisation throughout the rest of the film. Loy’s part may not be quite as showy — as demonstrated by its failure to gain an Oscar nomination — but she’s an invaluable half of the double act.

    Across the decades the detective story has transitioned to be a staple of television, with dozens of US dramas each churning out 22+ mysteries per year, not to mention all the British ones and, more recently here in the UK, European imports — you can’t move for a fleet of complex murder mysteries being solved on the gogglebox every day. It can make older movies that do the same thing feel less significant; less deserving of their big-screen status. Not so with ones like The Thin Man, which has so much more to offer besides the narrative and its revelations. Here a solid mystery, with potential to keep the viewer guessing, gives a structure on which to hang the real joys, which are provided by the central screwball-ish relationship. And the dog, of course.

    5 out of 5

    Read my reviews of all the Thin Man films on Thin Man Thursdays.

    * It lost to the father of screwball comedy, It Happened One Night, in every category. ^