Sunday, September 21, 2008

Curling Up with a Good Anthology Film

Just as I enjoy reading and sometimes re-reading a beloved book of short stories, some movies bear watching repeatedly. The enjoyment I derive from episodic movies might be indicative of our fragmented concentration in this dizzying information age.

Yet, as someone who loves to curl up with a book of short stories, I also enjoy movies that follow that portmanteau format, at least loosely. Some of the films mentioned are literary, some dream-like, and some just plain movie fun. Hardly any would ever make one of those AFI best movie lists, but they have given me a great deal of diversion. The following is a partial list of my favorite anthology films, which, despite the often critical disdain that greets them, continue to pop up from the early talkie period to today. Their sometimes hit or miss quality seems to have kept most of them from ever being the critics’ darlings as a genre, but there is lots of entertainment in some of these often imaginative and films, whether they are directed by one person or a clutch of varying talents. Curiously, many of the older films mentioned are very hard to find and haven’t been broadcast in years, but are well worth seeking out. I hope that you’ll add your suggestions to the list. I’m sure that there are some that I’m overlooking:
If I Had a Million(1932): An early talkie from Paramount, this omnibus story features a brilliant cast of everyone from George Raft, Jack Oakie, Richard Bennett (Constance & Joan’s dad) to Charlie Ruggles. Even Gary Cooper and W.C. Fields make appearances in various segments, all directed by eight wildly varying different talents (with Lothar Mendes uncredited). Several excellent scenarists, among them a young Joseph Mankiewicz, Sidney Buchman and Claude Binyon, contributed to the quality of the various segments. The common thread in this Depression era fantasy? Each story concerns the impact that unexpectedly receiving a million dollars has on several random individuals. Before you can say “My name is Michael Anthony” or “Shades of John Beresford Tipton”, each character responds to their windfall from the dying millionaire (Richard Bennett) a bit differently. Some stories are touching, as the one in which Wynne Gibson, a prostitute, uses her new-found fortune to have one clean bed, with only one pillow, and no one to bother her. A resident (May Robson, who is magnificent) in a harsh nursing home wisely arranges to have it turned into a delightful home for herself and her fellow inmates...More on the TCM Movie Morlocks


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