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December 5: Happy Birthday Fritz Lang and Otto Preminger


Our headliners today were both born in the old Austrian Empire, both worked in German film at one time, both became refugees from Nazism, and both were known for their contributions to film noir.

Fritz Lang (1890-1976) was born in Vienna, and while serving in the Austrian army during World War One, he began to have some ideas for films.  Shortly after the war ended, he was hired at the German studio UFA.  In over a decade at the studio, he made a number of famous films, including the first two in his Dr. Mabuse trilogy, the sci-fi drama Metropolis (which featured the robot character Maria, found in our Movie Robot Bracket Game), and his first sound picture, M, which starred Peter Lorre as a character often considered the first movie serial killer.  When the Nazis came to power, Lang (who was considered Jewish under the Nuremberg Laws even though he had been raised Catholic) decided to move to the US.

Lang’s first film in Hollywood was the crime drama Fury, and a lot of his American output consisted of crime films of some sort.  He made a few Westerns, like The Return of Frank James and Rancho Notorious, and a couple of war movies, but he was most at home in film noir; he made several major contributions to the genre.  The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street were mid-forties noirs with the same three stars (Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea) and several similarities of plot and character.  The Big Heat contains two scenes with levels of violence that, by the standards of the time, were very shocking—one involving a car bomb, the second a coffee pot.

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December 4: Happy Birthday Jeff Bridges and Marisa Tomei


Oscar winner (and six-time nominee) Jeff Bridges is turning 67 today.  The son of actor Lloyd Bridges, his first major film role, and first Oscar nomination, was in the role of Duane Jackson in The Last Picture Show in 1971.  Bridges has been working consistently in film ever since then.  While his career has had the ebbs and flows you’d expect, every few years he seems to have one or more films that are commercial and/or critical successes.

After his debut, he went on to win another Oscar nomination for Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and star in films like John Huston’s Fat City, the 1976 remake of King Kong, the contemporary noir Cutter’s Way, and the pioneering sci-fi film Tron.  He received his third Oscar nomination, and his first for Best Actor, for the 1984 sci-fi romance Starman.

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“The Best Comedy of the Year!” 1990s

As I indicated in my previous post and in the comments section that came with it, I went into this project fully expecting to prefer the film comedies I would have to choose from as I moved back into my younger days. Is this a bias based on personal tastes? Is it a generational bias that we would see repeated reliably if we polled thousands of people of different ages? Or are there really certain eras for different art forms that are simply of a higher quality than others?

As we roll back into my young adulthood in the 1990s, my guess is that it’s a little bit of all of the above.
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