Rear Window, and six more movies

Today, let's go on a voyeuring adventure, talk about marital infidelity, become a fish, save the whales, let Hitler be Hitler, laugh at little people, and visit a dozen alternative universes.

80,000 Suspects (1963)
Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)
Everything Everywhere All at Once (2021)
The Incredible Mr Limpet (1963)
Look Who's Back (2015)
Rear Window (1954)
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

The gold ribbon goes to Rear Window.

Silver: Everything Everywhere All at Once.



Dec. 20, 2022

Bronze: Star Trek IV.

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80,000 Suspects (1963)

Well, now he's done it — Val Guest has made a movie I don't care for. He's usually quite good (Hell is a City, The Day the Earth Caught Fire), but today he's ordinary.

There's a smallpox epidemic raging, with 80,000 people potentially exposed. A married doctor and nurse are hard at work fighting the bug, but the movie isn't so much about the epidemic as it's about their marital problems and infidelities.

This is a serious drama in the stiff upper-lip British style, and nothing is particularly wrong with it. It might even be quite good. It's just that handsome men and attractive women have been known to boink, even beyond the bonds of marriage, and my reaction is an oversized "So what?"

Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Cyril Cusack star.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)

Do yourself a favor and skip the opening credits, to avoid an atrocious opening song that's belted at full volume off-key. Hit 'play' at about 4:30.

Or perhaps, do yourself an even bigger favor, and don't hit 'play' at all. This movie about dwarfs was over my head. I simply don't get it.

A bunch of little people take over the prison where they live. They don't bother running off, but instead loiter and wreak havoc on the prison grounds.

Why they're in prison, we're not told. And why would there be a dwarf-only prison? Are they feeble-minded, or just acting kooky for Werner Herzog's cameras? No answers are provided for such questions, and other than what I've told you, there's no discernible plot.

There's a long scene where a male dwarf tries to climb onto a bed where his girlfriend awaits, but the bed is too high off the floor, so it's difficult.

In another scene, several little people team up to taunt a couple of blind dwarfs by moving their furniture.

Later, there's a table outdoors with settings for seven, so seven dwarfs say grace, make a mess of the table, and pour the food all over each other.

The grand climax — yeah, I'm going to give it away — is a dwarf laughing and laughing and laughing as he watches a camel take a shit.

All through this film, there is laughing. There is great merriment among the height-deprived cast — they cackle and giggle and guffaw non-stop, except when they're being very quiet to better taunt the blind dwarfs. Much of the laughter seems badly faked, as if Herzog said, "Laugh," and they tried to, all day.

If you want to gawk at little people, watching this movie would be less rude than gawking at random dwarfs in person. About 30 little people were presumably paid to perform (I wouldn't call it 'acting'), and since I'm for full employment, that's a good thing too.

Other than that, either it's pointless or I need someone to explain it to me.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2021)

Evelyn Wang is a middle-aged woman who co-owns a laundromat with her husband Waymond. Their marriage isn't happy, and he's served her with divorce papers. They're under audit by the IRS. Evelyn's father disowned her when she married, but now that he needs a place to stay he lives with them above the laundromat. Their grown daughter is a lesbian dating a half-Mexican white woman, and Grandfather will never approve of that.

This is a family overflowing with drama, and then the movie takes an unexpected twist.

Another Waymond pops in from another universe, presenting Evelyn with the option of traveling to a whole lot of different universes. Poets and physicists (same thing) say that every time we make a decision, we create an alternate universe where we've made the other choice, and the film revisits all the choices Evelyn's made. She could've been a chef, a singer, or even a movie star like Michelle Yeoh, who plays her.

It's a busy film, and gave me an all-day headache, but it's worth the pain. Everything Everywhere includes cinematic tricks and special effects if you like that stuff, and lots of humor if you're paying attention, but despite all the fireworks and effects, it's mostly full of relatable humans acting like humans. 

Ms Yeoh, queen of Asian martial arts, is wondrous. No matter how crazy the situation she's in, she's always absolutely believable.

Ke Huy Quan, the annoying child actor from Temple of Doom and The Goonies, is still instantly recognizable, and less annoying than he used to be, as her nebbish husband. 

The brilliant James Hong plays Evelyn's father, but doesn't have much to do, and he's the only one in the family who doesn't get to go universe-hopping.

When they come back from each and every universe they've been in, Evelyn and Raymond often touch down in the most boring and oppressive place on earth, an IRS office, where Jamie Lee Curtis rejects their deductions, wants them to re-do some forms, and sometimes follows them to the next alternate reality.

There's also a cosmic buttplug, dog tossing, rocks pondering philosophy, and a multi-universal bagel. Take two aspirin and enjoy the journey.

"Every new discovery is just a reminder, we're all small and stupid."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Incredible Mr Limpet (1963)

Don Knotts dreams of being a fish, then becomes one. When he's a fish, he's a cartoon, but some of the underwater backdrops are pretty.

Knotts underplays his usual silliness, and comes off as likable. The movie features a few very dated 1960s choral songs, and a lovely theme song, "I Wish, I Wish, I Wish I Were A Fish."

I enjoyed about half of the movie, but could've done without most of the songs, and a long subplot about the fish-Limpet helping US destroyers find Nazi subs. Still, it's kind of casually charming.

Am I reading too much between the lines, or was Limpet's wife having an affair with his best friend, even before Limpet becomes a fish? Guess I'd have to read the novel by Theodore Pratt to find out, but I'm not doing that.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Look Who's Back (2015)

Hitler, that's who. He's returned to his adopted German homeland, but the film wastes no time or effort explaining how he came back. I think we all know why he came back, though.

Last thing he remembers is losing the war, so der fuehrer is surprised to find that Germans still live in Germany, and aren't under occupation by Allied troops. He's also surprised at the reception he gets — people laugh, want to take his picture, and he gets maced in the face. Most people love him, perhaps thinking he's a comedian.

For a movie with such a broad concept, the laughs are light and delicate. People complain to Hitler about too many immigrants, and there's a soft-spoken message that Hitler would have admirers in today's world. No shit, Adolph. 

"We're just fighting for our rights. We could use more democracy, so that someone can lay down the law, and say, This is how we're doing it. There is no discussion."

To which Hitler replies, "You are so right. That's just my kind of democracy."

I enjoyed the audacity of it all, but there's little attempt at genuine comedy. It's mostly about the shock of it all, but it's rare when any of the characters say anything that's not tongue in cheek. There are only two brief mentions of Jews.

I low-key enjoyed the movie and see the point, but it's so subtle that a dull-witted neo-Nazi (but I repeat myself) could see the movie as a hero's vindication.

"It's a good thing Goebbels can't see this."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Rear Window (1954)

James Stewart stars as L B "Jeff" Jeffries, a big-time news photographer recuperating at home from a broken leg. TV isn't in everyone's homes yet, and god forbid anyone read a book, so he spends his days staring out the back window of his apartment, into all his neighbors' apartments.

After weeks of this, he's imagined every neighbor's backstory, and given them all nicknames — Miss Lonely Hearts, Miss Torso, the Songwriter, etc. And then he thinks he sees evidence of something criminal.

Grace Kelly and the wondrous wisecracking Thelma Ritter co-star, with Raymond Burr as the murderer across the alleyway. 

Kelly thinks Jeff shouldn't be looking into other people's windows, and she talks with a snooty accent and says snooty things, like she's planning to be a princess or something. Eventually, though, she sees something out his window too, and says, "Let's start from the beginning again, Jeff. Tell me everything you saw, and what you think it means."

Alfred Hitchcock made the movie, and weaves threads of the neighbors' stories into a compelling 'second story', with quick glimpses of their lives. When the main story is over, all those sub-stories are given tidy endings as well, and it feels like we've gotten to know the entire neighborhood.

This afternoon I'd say that this is Alfred Hitchcock's finest film. Every element works, and it's just about perfect. I'm planning to re-watch Rope and maybe a few others, though, so Rear Window could still get knocked out of the top slot.

It's based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich, which I've read, and — with all due respect to Mr Woolrich — it's not half as good as the movie.

Trivia: The songwriter seen through Stewart's back window is Ross Bagdasarian, who later invented Alvin and The Chipmunks and wrote their big Christmas hit.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

There's another Very Big Object Headed to Destroy Earth, same as in the first Star Trek movie. It wants to check on the whales, but whales are extinct in the future, so to prevent Earthly annihilation, our heroes need to slingshot back in time and rescue two whales, and bring them back (forward) to repopulate the species.

Yeah, the story is out there beyond Antares, built mostly on Star Trek gobbledygook, with plot holes big enough to steer the Enterprise through. It doesn't matter. It's a kick in the interstellar ass.

The search for whales takes us to San Francisco in the 1980s, which was a beautiful place. The recently-reincarnated Spock barely has his logic in order, Scotty needs a supply of transparent aluminum, Sulu flies a helicopter, and Chekhov needs to gather some gobbledygook from a nuclear wessel.

Despite the fate of the planet hanging in the balance again, the flick has so many comedic lines and moments, that the next time I complain that Star Trek never has a sense of humor, just say to me, Star Trek Four. 

"Don't tell me — you're from outer space."

"No, I'm from Iowa. I only work in outer space."

When something goes wrong and Chekhov's injured and hospitalized, Dr McCoy wanders in the hospital's labyrinth of halls, and sees a woman waiting for her dialysis session. With a few words McCoy hands her a pill, and when we see her a few minutes later, she's regenerated a new kidney and she's cured.

That was a small moment, and sweet, when I first saw this. It's still sweet but now it brings a tear, after kidney disease took my wife a few years ago. Doc McCoy also makes a few snide remarks about the barbarism of 20th century medical care, and he's sure right about that.

Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go's is functioning on reserves only, Spock's just gonna hang around the bushes while we eat, and there's the marvelous "I Hate You" punk rock song.

Directed by Leonard Nimoy, quite well. The music is great, and a change of pace for the series, far less brassy and more peppy. As always, the effects and sets are sometimes cheesy, but who doesn't enjoy a good fondue?

The Challenger disaster had happened a few months before this film was released, and I still remember the hush in the theater, then applause, at the film's dedication "to the men and women of the spaceship Challenger, whose courageous spirit shall live to the 23rd century and beyond." That's corny and was doubtless dreamed up by someone in Marketing, but it felt right then, and still feels right, that arguably the world's leading sci-fi entity should express some grief when it's warranted.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Coming soon:  

The 30-Foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959)
The Day Time Ended (1979)
Lolly Madonna (1973)
Neon Maniacs (1986)
Southern Comfort (1981)
The Unbelievable Truth (1989)
Wavelength (1967)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   



  1. My favorite Christmas poems

    I don't know how many I'll get to, but there are some nice Christmas poems that make a lot more sense than Good King Wenceslas, or, at least, have more relevance. My favorite was written before the turn of the 20th century, during the rapid expansion of capitalism in the US, by Edwin Arlington Robinson. It is a sonnet about a man who, in the course of business has to financially ruin a friend. It's just business, but Christmas comes and the man has brief second thoughts.


    by Edwin Arlington Robinson

    Christmas was in the air and all was well
    With him, but for a few confusing flaws
    In divers of God's images. Because
    A friend of his would neither buy nor sell,
    Was he to answer for the axe that fell?
    He pondered; and the reason for it was,
    Partly, a slowly freezing Santa Claus
    Upon the corner, with his beard and bell.

    Acknowledging an improvident surprise,
    He magnified a fancy that he wished
    The friend whom he had wrecked were here again.
    Not sure of that, he found a compromise;
    And from the fulness of his heart he fished
    A dime for Jesus who had died for men.


  2. Oh Doug, I am not the movie nut you are, but years ago a date took me to see that Even Drawfs Are Small. I didn't hate it as much as you did but he was laughing all through it like it was the funniest thing ever. That was when I started to know we had to break up.

    I hope you like The Unbelievable Truth, its one of my favorites.

    1. Well, spoiler: I liked The Unbelievable Truth too.

      Condolences or congratulations on your break-up.


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