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  • The Last Laugh

    The Last Laugh

    The 1924 film in which F.W. Murnau freed his camera from its stationary tripod and took it on a flight of imagination and expression that changed the way movies were made. Cameras had tracked and panned before, but never to such a deliberate and spectacular degree. Emil Jannings is the hotel doorman whose life is ruined when he is shunted to semiretirement as a lavatory attendant and his beautiful uniform is taken away from him. The film was a great…

  • The Last Hurrah

    The Last Hurrah

    John Ford's 1958 film looks like a family wake, only it isn't his family that he's invited. As the familiar faces glide past—Spencer Tracy, Pat O'Brien, Basil Rathbone, Edward Brophy, James Gleason, Ricardo Cortez, Wallace Ford, Frank McHugh—all at or near the end of their careers, it feels as if Ford is holding a funeral for a lost Hollywood. But it isn't his Hollywood; these aren't his people—which may account for the film's strangely cool, distanced tone. Edwin O'Connor's novel,…

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  • Risky Business

    Risky Business

    Paul Brickman's 1983 film approaches Jerzy Skolimowski's Deep End as one of the finest film explorations of the end of innocence. Taking off from the format of a typical teenage sex comedy, Brickman deepens the characters and tightens the situations, filming them in a dark, dreamlike style full of sinuous camera movements and surrealistic insinuations. Brickman found a tone I hadn't encountered previously—one of haunting, lyrical satire. Tom Cruise, in what may be the genre's only convincing portrayal of an…

  • The Searchers

    The Searchers

    We may still be waiting for the Great American Novel, but John Ford gave us the Great American Film in 1956. The Searchers gathers the deepest concerns of American literature, distilling 200 years of tradition in a way available only to popular art, and with a beauty available only to a supreme visual poet like Ford. Through the central image of the frontier, the meeting point of wilderness and civilization, Ford explores the divisions of our national character, with its search for order and its need for violence, its spirit of community and its quest for independence.