Directed by Steven Soderbergh
What’s it about: Loosely based on German novelist Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel, The Castle, this cinematic version follows the writer and insurance company employee, Kafka (Jeremy Irons in the titular role), as he stumbles upon an underground society and attempts to uncover their next terrorist activity.
Why watch it: From the start of his career, director Steven Soderbergh has, more than any filmmaker of his generation, successfully jumped back and forth between mainstream movies and artsy films. Kafka clearly resides on the “artsy” side. Creepy, enigmatic, Kafka’s not a tidy story where the plot and purpose were sketched out on a napkin in crayon by studio executives. The film, like its subject (Franz Kafka), offers few, obvious answers, but opens a door for the viewer to ponder: The lofty idea of “‘man’ as individual and his place and purpose in modern society.” And, if all that just sounds too far out, then watch Kafka for the lush, black-and-white cinematography and the haunting musical score.
Interesting factoid: When searching for his missing colleague in the Cafe Continental, Kafka is approached by friends and they ask: “What are you working on?” Kafka replies: “A thing about a man who wakes up and finds himself transformed into a giant insect!” A direct reference to Kafka’s best known work, “Die Verwandlung,” or as we refer to it in the English translation, The Metamorphosis.
Business takeaway: If you think you’re in a dead-end job, you probably are. As a business guru told me 20 years ago, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” I quit my Kafka-esque job by week’s end and have supported myself by writing ever since.
Memorable scene: The comedic moment where the twins at the insurance company engage in a speed-typing contest.
Doctor Murnau: A crowd is easier to control than an individual. A crowd has a common purpose. The purpose of the individual is always in question.
Franz Kafka: That’s what you’re trying to eliminate, isn’t it? Everything that makes one human being different from another. But you’ll “never”, “never” reach a man’s soul through a lens.
Doctor Murnau: That rather depends on which end of the microscope you’re on, doesn’t it?
Next up: Lloyd’s of London
Directed by Henry King
What’s it about: When tweens Jonathan Blake (Freddie Bartholomew) and Horatio Nelson (Douglas Scott) learn that sailors/pirates are planning to swindle an insurance company, they trek to London to warn the owners of “Lloyd’s Coffee-House.” Their news eventually results in a job with the company for Blake (Tyrone Power plays him as an adult), who eventually becomes an owner of “Lloyd’s of London.”
Why watch it: Though Blake is a fictional character, the film, besides being a good action yarn, provides an origin story to the venerable Lloyd’s of London.
Interesting factoid: Lloyd’s of London was future superstar, Tyrone Power‘s, first leading role, and, at the tender age of 23, he showed the studio heads he had the chops to carry a film.
Business takeaway: Doing a good deed can lead to good things happening to you. i.e. Pay it forward.
Memorable scene: The spy subplot, where Blake is involved in passing along false information to enemy troops, thus enabling Admiral Nelson valuable time so he can win the Battle of Trafalgar.
Lord Stacy: Ah, yes, I recall your face. You’re a waiter at Lloyd’s Coffee-House, aren’t you?
Blake: Yes. I am at Lloyd’s.
[They're interrupted by the young woman Blake has been romancing.]
Lady Elizabeth: Mr. Blake, I’d like you to meet my husband, Lord Stacy.
Next up: Save the Tiger
13. Save the Tiger (1973)
Directed by John G. Avildsen
What’s it about: Harry Stoner (Jack Lemmon) has tried everything to save his apparel business. First, he cooked the books. Then, he hired prostitutes for his clients. Finally, after all else has failed, he resorts to an arsonist to burn the place down so he can collect on the insurance.
Why watch it: Jack Lemmon’s performance. I’ve always admired his work, but when watching movies in the ‘70s, Lemmon was never one of my heroes. That lofty perch was held by the more macho actors like Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and the like (okay, guilty pleasure alert: Burt Reynolds), but, as I get older, and watch Lemmon’s movies again, I find the nuances and subtle emotions of greatness.