Watch 'Suburbicon,' Then Watch These Movies

We recommend 10 movies to see after the latest from George Clooney.

Suburbicon

We recommend 10 movies to see after the latest from George Clooney.

After starring in four movies written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, including their latest effort, Hail, Caesar!George Clooney has gone behind the camera with a script by the two brothers (rewritten by Clooney and Grant Heslov). The result, Suburbicon, is a mix of the Coens’ brand of comedy, some film noir influence, and ironic satire of 1950s integration fears. As such, it’s good fodder for some further recommendations of various movies from the last 75 years.

Double Indemnity (1944)

Double IndemnityWhen it comes to movies about insurance fraud, this classic film noir by Billy Wilder is tops. Fred MacMurray, before he was a Disney icon and a sitcom dad, stars as an insurance salesman looped into a murder plot. Barbara Stanwyck is the femme fatale who gets him to kill her husband for the insurance money. Of course, nothing about the dumb plan works out for either of them. Fraud literally doesn’t pay when you’ve got Edward G. Robinson investigating the claim.

In Suburbicon, Matt Damon plays a man who, with his sister-in-law (Julianne Moore), offs his wife (also Moore) for insurance money. Their attempt at fraud raises red flags for an investigator played by Oscar Isaac, who is far and away the best part — arguably the only good part — of Clooney’s movie. The Coens have shown Wilder’s influence before, particularly with the Clooney-led Intolerable Cruelty, and Clooney has been a part of other Wilder wannabes like The Good German. But nothing beats the real thing.


 

The Well (1951)

Image WThis lesser-known film noir relates to the other half of Suburbicon, as it deals with a racially charged clash between members of a small town. Featuring an Oscar-nominated script by Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse, who’d previously written D.O.A. (which I recommended to watch recently) and would go on to win for Pillow Talk, the movie is about a missing black girl, the white man arrested for her murder, and the violence that escalates when he’s let out of jail.

Unlike the senseless racism of the community in Suburbicon, which just can’t stand to see an African-American family move into the neighborhood, the near race war that breaks out in The Well is caused by presumptions of guilt plus rumors and hearsay. Harry Morgan, best known for later TV roles on Dragnet and M*A*S*H, is the alleged killer, whose release inspires an angry mob of black citizens and whose heart attack turns into claims he was beaten by black men, causing angry white mobs to retaliate. The whole time, as we know from the opening sequence, the little girl is actually still alive and trapped in a well.


 

Crisis in Levittown, PA. (1957) and All the Way Home (1957)

Crisis In LevittownThe racially charged harassment of a new African-American family in Suburbicon may be hard to believe. But that whole subplot is based on the true story of angry mob protests in Levittown, PA, outside the home of African-American newcomers the Myerses (renamed the Mayerses in Suburbicon). The anti-integration riots lasted 14 nights until finally the state police settled the people down. After the events, this short documentary was made showing the end of the violence and interviewing locals in the aftermath about what they think of the Myers family’s arrival.

Crisis in Levittown, PA. itself is seen and recreated in Suburbicon. Yes, awful racist people of the neighborhood — mostly women — actually showed their face on film admitting their prejudices against African Americans and disapproval of integration, fears of intermarriage, violence, and ultimately the decrease in property values. One man tells of rumors he’s heard that the Myers family moving in is a conspiracy involving the NAACP, the “reds,” and/or the Jews. It’d almost be laughable if it wasn’t so disturbing and sad.

Also worth looking at is another short educational film from 1957 called All the Way Home, which was produced by Lee Bobker, Lester Becker, and Dynamic Films, the makers of Crisis in Levittown, PA. It’s a more dramatized nonfiction effort focused on the positive effects of integration, depicting a story of an African-American family looking to buy a home in an otherwise white neighborhood and what would happen if the sale goes through. While it’s well-meaning and filled with well-reasoned arguments, though, All the Way Home isn’t as powerful because of its being scripted.

Watch Crisis in Levittown, PA. and All the Way Home below via the Internet Archive.

Christopher began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called 'Read,' back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials.