List o’ the Week: Movies I’ve Tried and Failed to Watch

My first “List o’ the Week” for 2013 is a short list, but a list, nonetheless. It’s similar in concept to my initial outing, which identified well-known movies that I’ve never seen. This week, I list three films that have been highly recommended, and that I have tried – more than once – to watch, but have not yet been able to make it through. At the risk of being cinematically sacrilegious, here goes:

These guys just don't do it for me.

These guys just don’t do it for me.

Five Graves to Cairo (1943)

I know, I know – it has a stellar cast featuring Franchot Tone, Anne Baxter, and Erich von Stroheim. It was directed by the great Billy Wilder, and written by Wilder and his longtime partner Charles Brackett. It received three Oscar nominations – for editing, black and white interior design, and black and white cinematography.  It’s the veritable bomb-diggity! But I just can’t get into it. Maybe it’s the wartime/spy theme, maybe the foreign setting (y’all know I’m partial to urban locales) – I don’t know.  But I’ve tried three times and haven’t made it to the end yet. Uncle!

Black Narcissus (1947)

It seems as though every time I hear someone praise this film, they talk about the way it looks. Never the story or the performances. Not the music, not the writing. But the visual ecstasy that it offers. It’s beautiful. It’s gorgeous. It’s exquisite. It’s BORING.

I love Cary Grant as much as the next gal, but . . .

I love Cary Grant as much as the next gal, but . . .

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

I am ducking as I write this. I know that lots of people love this film and find themselves on the floor, convulsing with mirth every time they look at it. Alas, I fail to see the humor. It could very well be that the topic – dotty old ladies killing people and burying them in the cellar – is just too grim to be darkly amusing to me. However, of the three films on this week’s list, this is the one I feel most determined to see through to the end, and the one I most regret being unable – SO FAR – to appreciate. So don’t give up on me yet.

Are there any films that you’ve tried, without success, to watch? Or am I out here on this limb all by my lonesome? What say you?


~ by shadowsandsatin on January 4, 2013.

21 Responses to “List o’ the Week: Movies I’ve Tried and Failed to Watch”

  1. I love Black Narcissus and don’t find it boring at all. I don’t have a problem with any performance in Arsenic and Old Lace except for Cary Grant’s excessive mugging. (Jack Carson, also mugged too much, but he carried it off a little better.) It makes me cringe and apparently it made Grant cringe too. it was his least favorite film and he did not want do the over the top acting and double takes that Capra asked for. Allyn Joslyn played Mortimer Brewster on Broadway – now he should have been in the movie instead of Grant.
    I really enjoy Raymond Massey as the evil Jonathon.
    In fact, if I was to make a list of movies I just can’t get through, it would be mostly Capra movies. Capracorn indeed! The only Capra movie I really like is “The Miracle Woman”.

  2. Casablanca! I’ve tried, ok – but I just can’t get through it. I don’t hate it, there are even some good lines in the bits I’ve seen, but it just doesn’t hold my attention. I don’t really care about Rick or any of them, and they all feel very cardboardy sorts of people with nothing very original to say, and I just sort of drift away before the end. Every time.

  3. I really liked 5 Graves, but i found the other ones unwatchable, Arsenic is too cute by half. I tried to watch Eyes Wide Shut, but imo its lousy. De Niro’s last 40 or 50 films, fageddboutit.

  4. I appreciate your honesty here. ( I often find myself being honest about films but I’m even more brutal with my snark.) I have to agree on Black Narcissus and as one of the biggest Grant fans, Old Lace had it’s funny moments but it dragged on in parts and I felt it could have used a bit more humor, better writing in places.

    Keep up the critiques, your lists as they’re quite entertaining! : )

  5. I think Capra was the wrong director for Arsenic & Old Lace. It’s a black comedy crossed with farce, and neither genre is Capra’s type. I find the direction too slow and the humor often strained, and I get the sense that Grant’s mugging is an attempt to keep things spinning when they aren’t. And I find Massey’s performance heavy-handed. (Plus all that stuff Capra added at the beginning, about Mortimer hating marriage, is too wincingly cute.) I do enjoy Peter Lorre’s performance, though; he achieves an alcohol-fumed sense of the macabre which conveys the original play’s dark, off-kilter humor.

  6. Arsenic and Old Lace’s has several problems: the performances are often forced (particularly Grant’s, who acts as if he’s helping himself to seconds at the Scenery du Jour salad bar) and, as GOM has stated, Frank Capra really wasn’t the director for this assignment (I would have went with someone like Preston Sturges), But the biggest error was that since the film went into production in 1941 (while the play was still doing boffo box office on Broadway) they weren’t able to use Boris Karloff because the filmmakers agreed not to poach him while he was the stage version’s big draw.

    Five Graves to Cairo is a good movie, but I sympathize with how rough it is to watch. I fell asleep the last time it was on.

    As for Black Narcissus…there’s a reason why people tell you about the way it looks. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the film, the breathtaking cinematography that convinces you you’re trapped in a convent high above the Himalayas (when they actually never got out of the studio) are every bit as important as the story, performances, etc. It’s one of my favorite films; one that reveals something amazing with each viewing.

    This having been said: I’m 3 for 3 trying to watch The Hunt for Red October. I’ve dozed off in the first half-hour every time.

  7. I’m with you on “Five Graves to Cairo,” I’ve tried and failed to watch it through twice. Am a huge fan of “Black Narcissus,” really one of the most beautiful and fascinating of all films, I think. I recently recommended it to a friend who hadn’t seen it and he’s since purchased the DVD and also a new, huge TV to watch it on (he’s had multiple viewings since, he tells me). And, although I’ve seen it more than once, I can’t disagree with you about “Arsenic and Old Lace” – zany to the point of completely annoying.

    • Hi, Eve — I fear I will never make it through to the end of “Black Narcissus,” but the last time it aired on TCM, I did see more than ever before. (That’s something, anyway . . .)

  8. I love this description: “It’s beautiful. It’s gorgeous. It’s exquisite. It’s BORING.” Says it all.

  9. Five Graves is one of my favorite films, so I can’t help you much there. I always picture watching it back in the 40’s, when it was a ‘ripped from the headlines’ picture; thrilling!

    Personally, I’ve got a number of classic films that don’t do anything for me, most notably pretty much every non-Casablanca/Sabrina Bogart film. The Big Sleep has put *me* to sleep three times. The Maltese Falcon and To Have and Have Not just baffle me. And don’t get me started on Joan Crawford pictures…

  10. A&OL is terrible. Cary is my favorite and I will watch him in anything. That said, I find his performance as Mortimer difficult to watch. It is not the Cary we all know and love. It’s not the comedic genius from Bringing Up Baby, The Awful Truth, Blandings, etc. I think the most difficult thing about watching him is seeing how uncomfortable he is in the role. Not just uncomfortable: he’s miserable. I always felt guilty for disliking Grant’s performance until I read that he hated every minute of filming it.

    I love the play. Very funny stuff. Capra had no business directing it.

    • Well, I’m glad to know I am not completely without taste and discrimination. I thought there was something wrong with me because I just couldn’t see the charm of Arsenic and Old Lace!

  11. Hi, I found your blog through the link on your GAOH page. I sent you a friend request there and will be following your blog. I, too, love film noir.

    I understand what you mean about “ducking” when writing that “Arsenic and Old Lace” doesn’t do it for you. There are plenty of films I feel that way about…some of them very beloved films, like “His Girl Friday,” “Bringing Up Baby,” “The Awful Truth,” and “Nothing Sacred.” I also don’t care much for “The Thin Man” series, though I’ve at least gotten through the 3 of them I’ve tried. I know most people love them, and they think I am insane because I don’t, but that’s just how it is.

    In the end, we’re all unique, and what appeals to one of us wont’ necessarily appeal to someone else.

  12. Hey Karen, as always I do love your list. I’m still curious about your Pre-Code-Top-10 or have i missed it? – Allt the best from snowy Germany! – Jörn

  13. What about CITIZEN KANE,the critics’ delight. I finally watched it a couple of years ago and couldn’t figure what all the hoo-hah was about.

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