Documentary Movie Review: Sacco and Vanzetti (2006) #atozchallenge

Title: Sacco and Vanzetti
Release Date: April 6, 2006
Director: Peter Miller
Production Company: Willow Pond Films

This documentary tells this history of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a pair of Italian immigrants active in the anarchist movement who were convicted and executed for murder in Massachusetts in the 1920s.  The movie is Ken Burns style with lots archival photographs and film and modern day experts talking about the case, including Mary Anne Trasciatti, Howard Zinn, Studs Terkel, Nunzio Pernicone, Arlo Guthrie, and David Kaiser. Tony Shalhoub and John Turturo provide the voices of Sacco and Vanzetti.

I’m familiar with the case but learned a lot of new things from this movie:

  • the men became anarchists due to sympathy towards the plight of poor and working people, although they were actually more prosperous themselves than typical Italian immigrants of the time
  • the defense lawyer Fred Moore took on prominent leftist labor cases and stirred up a lot of publicity around the case which provoked a lot of retaliatory anger from the justice system
  • their case was tried at Norfolk County Courthouse in Dedham, which is still in use
  • Judge Webster Thayer was very prejudicial and allowed the prosecution to allow evidence of Sacco and Vanzetti’s anarchist ideology and WWI draft resistance even though they did not pertain to the trial
  • at least one of the bullets presented as evidence in the case was not actually one found at the scene of the crime but fired later from Sacco’s pistol
  • the witnesses who placed Sacco and Vanzetti at the scene of the crime were unreliable at best
  • motions for retrial were denied by Judge Thayer, the same judge who tried their case
  • In 1925, Celestino Medeiros confessed to the murder.  Thayer still denied a retrial.
  • despite their names forever linked together, Sacco and Vanzetti were isolated from one another for the entire 7 years of the case.

The issues of how the United States mistreats immigrants and fails to uphold civil liberties for all remains a relevant issue in our time.  The 100th anniversary of the arrest of Sacco & Vanzetti will occur on May 5th.  If you are unaware of their case or want to learn more about it, this documentary is a good place to start.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Some Like it Hot (1959) #atozchallenge

I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Some Like it Hot
Release Date: March 29, 1959
Director: Billy Wilder
Production Company: Mirisch Company 

Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) are struggling musicians who play sax and double bass in a speakeasy jazz orchestra in 1929 Chicago.  When they witness mobsters gunning down their rivals in a garage, they decide to disguise themselves as women and join an all-female jazz band that will be playing at a resort in Miami.

On the train with Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators, Joe (now Josephine) and Jerry (now Daphne) both become enamored with the band’s vocalist and ukulele player Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe).  During an impromptu party on the train, they individually make connections with Sugar.

In Florida, Jerry attracts the eye of an aging millionaire playboy, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown).  Joe creates another disguise as an heir to the Shell Oil company to attract Sugar.  One night, Jerry agrees to go dancing with Osgood so that Joe can take Sugar to Osgood’s yacht and pretend it’s his own.

Their hotel hosts a “Friends of Italian Opera” convention which is actually a cover for a national organized crime gathering. Chicago mobster “Spats” Colombo (George Raft) recognizes Joe and Jerry through their disguises.  While hiding at the convention, Joe and Jerry witness another mob hit.  On the run again, they flee with Osgood to his yacht with Sugar joining them.  Joe and Jerry reveal their true identities in one of the most hilarious film finales ever.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

One of many movies I watched with my family on tv as a kid in the mid-80s.  I remember liking it but for some reason never got around to watching it again until now.

What Did I Remember?:

I remember the train party, Tony Curtis dressing up as a millionaire and impersonating Cary Grant, and some of the basic plot.

What Did I Forget?:

Pretty much all of the mobster subplot.  I was actually impressed by the car chase that opens the movie and all the gags about the speakeasy in a funeral home are funny.  There’s about 10 minutes of this before we even meet Jerry and Joe.  I also forgot about Osgood and how the movie ends, believe it or not.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This movie is a cornball comedy that goes from merely good to great on the backs of four individuals at the height of their game: director Billy Wilder and actors Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon. I find Lemmon in particular to be hilarious in every scene he is in.  Monroe’s performance is a brilliant balance of sweet and simple with pure sexuality.  It’s surprising that she was so troubled in the making of this movie (arriving late, forgetting lines, etc.) because her performance seems so effortless.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

I was expecting a movie in which men dress as women and are horny for Marilyn Monroe to have aged poorly.  And there’s definitely some sexual/gender politics that don’t stand up.  But the amazing thing is that this movie avoids some of the cheap sexist jokes that later comedies that follow the similar plot tropes would revel in. I’m not going to say that Some Like it Hot is progressive, but it is a movie that seems okay with things about sexuality and gender that you wouldn’t expect from 1959.

Is It a Classic?:

I’d argue that Some Like it Hot is both a great movie, a definite classic, but also overrated.  When I see ranked as the greatest comedy of all-time I think it sets expectations too high.

Rating: ****

Seventeen-ish More All-Time Favorite Movies Starting With S:

  1. Say Anything…
  2. The Secret of Kells
  3. Seven Up! series (all nine movies including 56 Up and 63 Up)
  4. Sophie’s Choice
  5. Star Wars saga (especially Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Last Jedi)
  6. Stop Making Sense
  7. Sunset Boulevard

What is your favorite movie starting with S?  Any guesses for a movie starting with T (hint: it’s a LucasFilm production)?  Let me know in the comments.