Top 250 American Movies: 11-20

For each movie in the top 100, I’ve written a question to answer. (It would get very, very boring for me to have to write some variation on “boy howdy, you’ll never believe how good this movie is” one hundred more times.) There’s no exact sentence or word count I’m holding myself to here, but this is also isn’t going to function as a rationale for why 18 is better than 19 is better than 20. We’ll just be poking into some movies that are, simply, the very best.

11-20: REAR WINDOW to THE GOLD RUSH

20) The Gold Rush (1925), directed by Charlie Chaplin

Why is suffering this funny?

Location, location, location. There’s just enough verisimilitude and archival footage in the early sequences of The Gold Rush that Bill Morrison calls on them for Dawson City: Frozen Time. Aside from giving us some stakes that differentiate it from a gold rush picture in California or New Zealand, it also makes the Klondike an emphatically exotic place. Chaplin’s not exactly Mr. Travelogue—for better or worse, people will always remember the factory town/modern city of ethos of The Kid or City Lights ahead of the specificity of London in Limelight or France in Monsieur Verdoux—but The Gold Rush is a genuinely far-flung place for the Tramp to plop down his cane. We are not meant to relate to the Tramp so much as we might some years down the road in Modern Times, and we feel ourselves much less in his shoes as he avoids getting eaten by his shackmate or finds himself yanked around by a dog whose rope leash he’s taken for himself as a belt. Furthermore, in that scene where he eats his shoe, the comedy is not at all in the desperation and entirely in the execution. Juan Sebastian Elcano, starving to death towards the tail end of the world’s first circumnavigatory voyage, surely did not eat his boots with the table manners and relish that the Tramp displays as he twirls laces on his fork and sucks nails dry. It’s notable, I think, that this film’s most powerful scene (and on some days I think it might be the most beautiful scene in the history of the medium) is the kind of thing anyone’s eight-year-old could do at mealtimes no matter how far he lives from the frozen north. The Oceana Roll, performed with the same dexterity as boot-eating, ends with a pleased, relieved laugh that would be readable for just about anyone on the planet. The suffering is remote, but the joy is universal.

19) Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles

So is this movie overrated, or what?

Yep.

I can talk about this more, it’s cool.

My first encounter with Citizen Kane was through Peanuts, which at first glance seems a little odd but on second glance seems pretty much right.

A few years later I came across this follow-up to this strip, which really got to the heart of spoilers long before the word itself was on everyone’s fingertips. (I promise this is a true story: The Monday after Infinity War came out, a kid took a marker and wrote the names of the characters who had “died” at the end of the movie on the whiteboard. There are Lucies everywhere you go.)

Anyway, I asked my dad to explain the joke to me, seeing as I’d never heard of Citizen Kane or Rosebud, and would not have been able to connect the film’s director and star to the guy from the end of The Muppet Movie if I’d tried. He told me that it was a very famous movie, the one most people said was the greatest movie ever. I think this is, for people who come across Citizen Kane, the most common explanation they get as to why they should know it. Even when I tell people about this movie who have never heard of it, I usually punctuate it with, “It’s often given as the greatest movie ever made.” Bilge Ebiri’s essay about Citizen Kane for the new Criterion edition starts off with the film’s longtime run atop the Sight and Sound poll, which was broken ten years ago by Vertigo, and then Ebiri finishes the paragraph with a comment about the canon. When one of the best movie critics in America, writing for the most beloved boutique movie vendor in America, can’t escape an opening about Kane that doesn’t have to do with whether it’s the best- or second-best movie of all time, you know that idea is inescapable. Citizen Kane has been the shorthand for “great movie” for so long, and the film has been so pored over that I think it’s basically impossible to find something in the film which hasn’t been sacralized beyond further analysis: Rosebud, the Gregg Toland cinematography, the Welles performance (and the really good makeup the twentysomething wore throughout the picture), the scandal of putting a barely disguised William Randolph Hearst on the screen, and so on. All of this, plus that number-one spot Kane held for decades on Sight and Sound, the number-one spot it’s had on both iterations of the AFI list, the number-one spot it’s got at They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?, and the adulation of dads throughout the decades make this film an overrated one. It is impossible to say that anything is the best of anything without overrating it; to do so with Citizen Kane, to the point where it is almost spoken like common sense after decades of renown, is to grossly overrate it.

The funny thing is that if it weren’t for the likes of Peter Bogdanovich and William Friedkin and Martin Scorsese, I’m not sure that Kane would have reached that apex. Consider that in 1962, the second Sight and Sound list had Citizen Kane in the top spot by just two mentions. L’Avventura was a very close second, and there was already precedent for fairly recent films and long-gone silent films to close out some of the middle years. In 1982, Kane had finally put double-digit votes between itself and second place, but at that point the filmmaking world had lived through multiple “new” somethings or other. In 1962, Bogdanovich and Scorsese were in their early twenties; in 1982, Bogdanovich had practically washed out of Hollywood and Scorsese had just made a comeback. In 1982, Francois Truffaut was a year away from a stroke, and Jacques Tati died. The bringing of America into the world’s New Waves after they had dominated Europe and parts of Asia the decade before finalized the world in which Kane could be, because it was the most influential film ever made, especially for the prize filmmakers of those movements, the greatest as well.

What I have done a pretty bad job of doing here, as most people do a pretty bad job, is explaining what makes Citizen Kane a movie so great that it fought off all comers for five decades. The answer, of course, is in the film itself, the story of a Cincinnatus who craved adoration more than he loved honor, told with rousing action and a camera that insists that we sit right there in order to see that craving in all of its opulent gore.

18) Apocalypse Now: Redux (1979/2001), directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Have you even seen the original?

Hahaha, no. Why would I? The original doesn’t have the scenes at the French plantation. The movie doesn’t hinge on the ravings of fat Brando, nor does it hinge on the ravings of slim Duvall, nor does it hinge on the (narrated) ravings of half-dead Sheen. If this movie is as good as I think it is, I really don’t think it’s because of the strangeness of the Kurtz compound or the eerie recordings of his voice while nerdy Harrison Ford briefs Sheen. The cut from rotors to ceiling fan while keeping the sound of the rotors in place is certainly quite clever. The greatness of the film relies on how spectacular the “Ride of the Valkyries” scene is, which meshes the thrill of combat with the inhumanity of conquest about as well I think is possible in the movies. (Seeing that sequence as a teenager is one of the things that I think ultimately pushed me to caring about movies as much as I do; it was so far away from what I expected of Apocalypse Now, and it was also exhilarating and godawful in measures that I only associated with Eugene O’Neill and William Faulkner.) The greatness of this movie needs “Charlie don’t surf!” much, much more than it requires “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” And it needs the resentment and stubbornness of those French people in their slightly dilapidated and heavily armed plantation, the last frogs on this historically hostile lily pad. It is the last major step for the PT boat before it reaches Kurtz, and it is the greatest reminder of the pointlessness of this mission contained in the entire film. Willard struggles to understand why there needs to be one more dead man in this war which has sucked so many souls into its incarnadine craw, and the last people who could tell him why that is are here, speaking French in what I’m sure they must refer to amongst themselves as “Indochine,” making vapid statements about eggs and seeing one that kills and one that loves even though no one has been able to see the latter in Willard since…ever? The next most essential scene is the one where Willard looks at a bugeyed soldier in a chaotic bridge battleground and asks who’s in charge, only to be asked, “Ain’t you?” There’s more linen and wine among the French, but the same kind of assumption of headless command is still there.

17) It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), directed by Frank Capra

Why is there a colorized version of this movie? Does God hate us?

My wife has gotten into TikTok in the past few months, and perhaps in part because she doesn’t cook some of her favorite videos are of people roasting people who make bizarre food. No one shines more for her than @iamtiffanywilder, who reacts to these terrible cooks making terrible food with the kind of condescension that alien invaders tend to save for those puny earthlings. In one recent video, the phrase “I am so over this shit” popped up, which is a good summation of her general vibe. Also it’s almost verbatim what I said when I watched a clip of this movie’s final scene in color. (That Ted Turner reached a point where he was like, “Let’s colorize a movie like It’s a Wonderful Life and because I have a gazillion dollars I can pay some nimrods to do it” is all the proof any cinephile needs that every billionaire is a policy failure.) For the love of Mike look at what they did to these people.

Look at their weird heads just sort of bobbling out of space. What they’ve done to Lillian Randolph is an absolute crime: she looks as plastic as a Ken doll and appears to have the same hairline! Look at this muddle of grays and blacks and dark greens, as if these people were the camouflaged Spetsnaz on a mission to liquidate the capitalists of Bedford Falls. The primary understanding of this moment is a wall of flesh pressing in on the Baileys; clearly Ward Bond is about to murder George with his accordion. Here’s a shot of the same moment, pretty much, in black and white…and in 360p.

Look at the uniformity of this shot. Now instead of that muddle, it’s grays and blacks with flesh tones, including a significantly more normal looking Lillian Randolph, on top. See how we’re invited to focus on Harry in this moment, topped with snow, with his white scarf atop his dark coat, an invisible cup of punch reached out in front of him like some glistening snowglobe. It makes sense this way. It’s a Wonderful Life has probably made as many people cry as Old Yeller, and those tears can only be shed with this marvelous black and white photography to elicit them. There’s this pernicious idea in politics and moviegoing alike that we’re all working towards progress, that things are going to get better just because things continue to happen. I am so over this shit. The presence of color does not improve a movie, because what makes It’s a Wonderful Life so, well, wonderful has nothing to do with what colors it does or does not have. And if colorizing a film forces us to believe that Frank Capra made this movie with Donna Reed on a totally different plane of existence, that’s just more reason to bring the guillotines to the stockholders’ meetings.

16) Sherlock, Jr. (1924), directed by Buster Keaton

Why is this, of the nearly 3,000 extant American silents we have, the one that’s highest rated among them?

Well, obviously I have not seen all 3,000 of those films, so it would not surprise me, necessarily, if one of them that I haven’t seen were better than Sherlock, Jr. And on the other hand it would definitely surprise me a lot, because this movie is near 100 years old now and I don’t think anyone has ever made a more insightful movie about the movies. Let us now praise Eisenstein and Dovzhenko and Vertov and the other pioneers of Soviet montage, but let us not forget Keaton, who understood that editing could put a man literally anywhere no matter where he had been before the cut. The power of film is a godlike one—no small wonder that control freak men fetishize the power of the auteur—and Keaton makes the nobody projectionist in Sherlock, Jr. into something of a godlike figure. Granted, gods tend not to get bodied quite as often as Keaton does in this picture, but there are moments of nearly infinite possibility in Sherlock, Jr. Take the stunt where he leaps into a suitcase like a swimmer diving off the blocks. There’s an obvious mathematical brilliance in the frame of a house falling on top of Keaton in Steamboat Bill, Jr., which stands as perhaps the most iconic of all Keaton’s stunts. All the same, watching that house fall is just a question of angles, and once the thing collapses around him, one thinks of those angles and how many times everyone must have checked their figures to make sure that they wouldn’t crush poor Buster for good. You watch that moment where he jumps into a suitcase and it’s like watching a master at sleight of hand go to work instead of watching an engineer’s practical magic. Sherlock, Jr. has the spectacle that could only work on film, the reliance on editing, and of course something of an Alger fantasy tapped into the picture as well. The boys in those novels simply rose to wealth through good natures and hard work. Keaton takes it a step further; a young man can dream himself not just to Hollywood, but into the movies themselves. Before Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power, before Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford, Buster Keaton knew what it meant to live the fantasy of being the hero of a film, and more than anyone else projects the delight of being a character who lives onscreen.

15) Casablanca (1943), directed by Michael Curtiz

Can we ever watch Casablanca like we’re watching it for the first time?

I understand that one of the things that people really cherish about parenthood is watching their children discover things, learn things, find out about the kind of stuff that the adults long ago grew jaded over. (I’m not totally immune to this, given that I’ve taken my cat out in the snow so he could see what it was.) I think the closest we can come to seeing Casablanca anew comes from watching the film with someone who’s never seen it before, and to try to understand it with their blissful ignorance. This is especially true if you’re watching with someone who doesn’t quite know the rules of movies made before 1995, and they only realize as it’s happening that Rick is going to send Ilsa off with her husband rather than leaving, hat tip to Sally Albright, the future president of Czechoslovakia by his lonesome in Morocco. Still…it’s not really the same as seeing it new, though, even if you’re watching this film for the first time in 2022. It is one of the nucleobases in the American DNA. (No, I’m not telling you what the other three are.) In Britain, the iconic film romance is Brief Encounter, a film where two normal people fall in love and are forced to separate for the sake of decency. In America, Casablanca is the iconic film romance, a film where two exceptional people posing as normal people are forced to separate so the Allies can win World War II. There’s a fundamentally different call to action in these two films, and maybe that’s why so few American romances, which all have Casablanca in the blood and at their best intend to live up to its majesty, can even come close. Roman Holiday is an affront to a society which pretends at great volume that social class doesn’t matter. Love Story only has death, and even then the Grim Reaper only took Ali McGraw, big whoop. Moonstruck, a lovely film, is lovely in how personal it is, and the stakes of the film, bold as they are, remain personal. You can go down the list from The Way We Were to Pretty Woman to any post-Casablanca iteration of A Star Is Born. None of them strike with the heft of Casablanca, a film which makes this romance the center of the universe underlined with “La Marseillaise.” And no romance really understands the delicacy of love which is repressed messily, flowered, and then repressed with a bow on top like Casablanca. What movie can return to a line like “We’ll always have Paris” and mean it in so many ways and with so much beauty?

14) The Apartment (1960), directed by Billy Wilder

Is this movie great because of Billy Wilder or because of Jack Lemmon?

Of the great American directors, Billy Wilder’s misfires are the ones most mystifying to me. While he had streaks, you look at the work and it’s not obvious that he was building upon one successful idea to lead to another successful idea. Wilder’s filmography is made of discrete entities, like a house made of scavenged bricks. Look at it all together and it’s endearing, it adds up to something recognizable, but there’s no obvious rhyme or reason to which brick is in which position. Sure, the Hays Code dictates a certain ending for Double Indemnity, but Wilder works around it. It’s a finish which emphasizes the best relationship in that film, between MacMurray and Robinson, and which makes that lingering affection they hold for one another look the betrayal of the older man by the younger directly in the eye. And then the very next year, The Lost Weekend has one of the worst endings in the history of good movies. Imagine a particularly active chapter of a temperance league working together to strap Jane Wyman into a homemade trebuchet so she can plop headfirst onto Ray Milland’s heart, and you basically have the ending to The Lost Weekend. Each idea for Wilder (and Charles Brackett and Izzy Diamond and so on) was of itself. Make a movie as staid as The Spirit of St. Louis in 1957? No matter, there’s Witness for the Prosecution in the same year.

As for Lemmon, there’s a fine line between the puppyish nobody who naturally made himself beloved and the Stakhanovite tryhard who gets harder to connect with the louder he gets. His breakout performance in It Should Happen to You is almost flawless, playing the kind of guy who knows he has no chance for Judy Holliday’s affections opposite Peter Lawford, but this is America, doggone it, and a man’s got a right to try. On the other hand, he never quite strikes the right chord with Ensign Pulver; the funniest thing the guy does in Mister Roberts is related to soap bubbles, and the bubbles are much funnier than Lemmon. Sometimes this even happens in the same movie. Nestor is a charming straitlaced naif even once he’s been taken into Irma’s bed and then apartment, but the Lord X character that dominates so much of the film is funny for the initial shock value of bad teeth and tiresome almost immediately thereafter. (Whaddaya know, I’ve just summed up the history of England.) Lemmon’s Buddy Baxter, like Holden’s Joe Gillis a coastal transplant originally from Ohio, has to be on the shortlist of the great performances in American movies. What a complete loser this guy is. He has some semblance of a conscience but that’s not necessarily enough to buoy him into the ranks of the saints; for fear of losing what is an obviously lousy job, he still makes it easy for a slew of middle managers at this company to cheat on their wives without even trying all that hard. Wilder writes the scenario but it comes to life behind Lemmon, who is just on the edge of Lord X when he’s feigning his battle with the world’s mightiest head cold but who makes straining spaghetti with a tennis racket into a gesture of working-class do-without and great charm. To me, the answer to that initial question is in the scene where Bud is sitting down to watch Grand Hotel or Fort Apache. The presentation of the film on TV is marred with the perpetual anticipation of dealing with ads (and the heat of a TV dinner). This is Wilder, a little cynical, certainly funny, not always in the haha sense. But it’s Lemmon who captures us in this moment, the way he gingerly handles the dinner tray, the way he leans in with a drumstick when he hears those glamorous names, and most of all the eyeroll when he realizes he’s been sticking some anonymous woman’s pointy jewelry in his butt. The implication of what people have been doing on this couch where Bud is living? Wilder. The way it’s evened out as humor, but just for now? Lemmon.

13) Taxi Driver (1976), directed by Martin Scorsese

What does the success of this early Scorsese film have to show us about the legacy of America’s greatest post-Ford director?

There is a really lovely symmetry, if a completely random and non-replicable one, in the passing of the baton. John Ford died in August 1973; Mean Streets, the film that proved Martin Scorsese was Martin Scorsese, was released in October of that year. God, doors, windows, you know the rest. At any rate, if Taxi Driver shows us any one thing about Scorsese’s legacy, I think it shows us how narrow the definition of “peak” is. Because yes, by the definition we typically assign to the word, Martin Scorsese made his best work in the mid-’70s and nothing else has been quite as good. I’m occasionally guilty of talking about “peak” in this way, which acts like the accomplishment in ascending a mountain is only at the absolute zenith. Thus it would be misleading, maybe even cruel, to leave it there. The list of filmmakers in history who have made great movies across five decades is just vanishingly small—of course the number of filmmakers who even get to make five decades’ worth of films is minuscule to begin with—and Scorsese has done just that. That this happens to be the greatest of his films, and that he has come so close to attaining those heights again and again over half a century, means that Scorsese forces us to live inside the infinite hope that Nick said that Gatsby metabolized. Name an element of filmmaking and the result in Taxi Driver is nothing short of astonishing. Yet that is true of Goodfellas and Raging Bull, just as everyone says, and that is true of Silence and The Aviator, as rather fewer of us have divined. Maybe Killers of the Flower Moon will be as good as Taxi Driver, or even better. I struggle to imagine a film that could be either, but the chance is there. Scorsese’s greatness has been so consistent and so towering that no film of his can ever be met with anything but the greatest excitement. And yet Taxi Driver also suggests another nastier hypothesis, which is that each filmmaker struggles to escape the tentacles of his first film that reaches an enormous audience. That expectation has downgraded Orson Welles unfairly even into the 21st Century. It’s made us talk about Steven Spielberg as if he’s primarily a director of blockbuster films when he’s really been presenting middlebrow dramas for most of his career. It’s what made John Ford a director of westerns at the expense of his rich oeuvre, what made the eminently approachable Coen Brothers a pair of ciphers, what made David Fincher seem especially bloody-minded. There’s a good case to be made that Scorsese, not even in the years after his death (which I will refuse to recognize for some days after it happens), will never fully escape that peculiar and sickly aroma of Taxi Driver. That it’s a potentially unique aroma in American cinema is something we ought to spend more time praising.

12) Safe (1995), directed by Todd Haynes

What (sub)genre is this movie?

Get out your most special and favorite D&D die. Got it? Great, hold on.

  1. Allegory / I mean, AIDS probably, but I don’t think it’s crazy to call this one of the first climate change movies.
  2. Black Comedy / I mean, it’s a little bit funny that Carol, insulated from anything worse than bad sex with her husband for so long, all of a sudden becomes the victim of this kind of cosmic, perhaps even karmic joke? Throw a pie, it’ll find someone’s deserving mug.
  3. Cult / Less a genre than a way of life, I suppose, but Safe is the kind of film that is made to appeal to a niche rather than reaching the world at large. It tastes a little salty, like olives or anchovies, and I can understand why not everyone wants to feel like they’ve been dipped in something that brackish.
  4. Disaster / It’s not as if Carol is the first one laid low by this chemical sensitivity! This is like watching Patient Zero or Patient 1,000 in the beginning of the end of the world.
  5. Dystopian / Carlton Pearson is famous for a doctrinal oddity, which is that Earth is, in fact, Hell. His evidence, at the expense of oversimplifying what I think is actually a pretty compelling case, is to look out the window and see what’s happening.
  6. Fallen Woman / More a subversion of a pretty thin subgenre rather than something which comes to fulfill it, but I think there’s a way to read this film with Carol as a kind of Hester Prynne or Lisa Berndle, someone who has given herself over to a great love—in Carol’s case, not a man but the neoliberal fantasies of the late 20th Century—and has to pay for it until she can shake it off.
  7. Fantasy / “Are you allergic to the 20th Century?” is a question not unlike “Did some eldritch malediction leave you cursed at birth?”
  8. Horror / Lester first, though I guess that’s not what most people point to first off.
  9. Marriage / Carol and Greg go through an absolutely terrifying experience together which is sadly typical for many married couples; how many marriages are basically ended because of some untimely and devastating illness? Yet there is a special brutality to this marriage drama, because where we might expect the two of them to reconnect or find some new bond in this process, Greg is basically a mannequin with a credit card.
  10. Medical Drama / As obvious and important in Safe as it is in like, A Walk to Remember, but it occasionally takes a back seat to the the strangeness of the protagonist’s journey; it’s one of the rare intersections between Safe and The Seventh Seal.
  11. Melodrama / You know how if someone puts up a flyer in Comic Sans you can’t take it seriously, no matter how dire the situation might be? That’s kind of where I am with a film which uses pink and teal like they were going out of style (haha) to light a housewife’s crisis.
  12. Mystery / Maybe this seems a little bit obvious, but for a long, long time this movie feels like it’s going to have some kind of hard answer for what’s wrong with Carol, perhaps even into the Wrenwood section. Yet the Wrenwood section, for all of its seeming proof that what’s wrong with Carol is primarily a psychosomatic reaction to “the world,” only furthers the mystery of what her problem is.
  13. Parody / What is this film but Red Desert but with the same kind of Sirkian overtones that Haynes would get his biggest and fuzziest paint roller out for in Far from Heaven? There are some quiet moments where I think we’re allowed to laugh a little with Julianne Moore, which is not something we are permitted with Monica Vitti.
  14. Philosophical Drama / This movie is one long, nearly procedural dissertation about the question of “Why me?” The aforementioned presence of Lester sends up a middle finger to the philosophy not unlike Diogenes bringing a plucked chicken to Plato and calling it a man because it was a “featherless biped,” but there’s certainly no shortage of questions asked in this picture.
  15. Political Drama / Carol and I both have this thing where we get debilitating illnesses when people on the radio start talking about Ronald Reagan.
  16. Psychological Drama / I like this appellation a little less than a number of the other ones I’ve got here, just because I don’t think this movie is necessarily that interested in Carol’s psyche. Her soul, which seems to be gasping weakly at the end of the movie, is here; her body is of course a frequent focus. But her mind is a cipher that is filled in only very gradually, and to be frank the thinking in this film has to occur much more in the viewer than it might in Carol herself.
  17. Psychological Thriller / Thus this genre.
  18. Religious / I don’t know how else to describe the commune that Carol ends up at other than to call it a kind of cult. David Koresh could have taken lessons at Wrenwood.
  19. Revisionist western / Doc Holliday gets sick in the midst of civilization and goes to remote Arizona to take the edge off of it. Carol White gets sick in the midst of civilization and goes to remote New Mexico to take the edge off of it. I’m not going to cape for this interpretation, but there is a pioneering spirit in what Carol does once she decides she’s getting out of the big city and into the open air which would not be entirely out of place in a drama about the Mormons.
  20. Zombie / Again, Lester. Would fit right into a latter-day George A. Romero.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, roll your D&D die. What did it land on? That’s what genre Safe is. Happy we could clear that up together!

11) Rear Window (1954), directed by Alfred Hitchcock

I like to watch movies. Does that make me a pervert?

Thelma Ritter has a line in here well before the trouble starts, one which is obviously meaningful because everything’s a clue, but which is casual enough that it’s possible just to read it as Thelma Ritter getting a good one off. “You have a hormone deficiency,” she tells the silver-haired Jeff as he sits in his wheelchair, broken leg sticking out like he’s happy to see her. “Those bathing beauties you’ve been watching haven’t raised your temperature one degree in a month.” Perhaps Jeff enjoys looking at Miss Torso from long-distance, but he’s not exactly getting off on it. In 1998, the FDA approved Viagra. Jeff isn’t going to make it to 1998, not even if he swears off tracking murderous neighbors. Sweaty and itchy and uncomfortable and probably more flaccid than he’s comfortable with admitting, he uses his telescopic sight as a kind of phallus. It doesn’t make much sense that he’s trying to shoo off Grace Kelly, but if you grant that the steamy little scene where she reveals everything she’s keeping to stay the night with Jeff is meant to be, well, steamy, then it’s entirely possible those two haven’t done much more than neck in the past. If Rear Window is the story of a guy who can’t get it up and has to get into other people’s windows to spy on them, then, well, that definitely describes a lot of people going to the movies in 1954. Jeff is old-fashioned, I think—something tells me that his dignity is not likely to allow him to let even a cowgirl as sparkly and glamorous as Lisa ride him—and so between the mores of the time and the lack of little blue pills that allow men like Jeff to ride into the sunset of their lives, Rear Window is very much about dangling sexual pleasure in front of someone who, as much as he might want to, is extremely limited in doing any more than watching with Ludovico treatment eyes, committing to memory, and saving it for the sock. For the horny but impotent men of the 1950s, surely Grace Kelly in all her patrician beauty was even more distant than Miss Torso was for L.B. Jefferies.

2 thoughts on “Top 250 American Movies: 11-20

  1. I’ve enjoyed this series so much that I’ve gone much further back through your blog than I expected. Heck, it’s so good that I’ve been reading the descriptions for movies I haven’t even watched. Your enthusiasm for the movie you love is contagious. No pressure for the final installment, just a huge shout to your writing skill.

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